MUMBAI: The BJP seems to have been caught in a cleft-stick in Maharashtra, thanks to a fractured mandate in the assembly elections.
With no political party securing clear majority in the 288-member assembly, a period of political instability looms ahead in Maharashtra.
Despite emerging as the single-largest party with 123 (122+1 ally) seats, the BJP faces a predicament here - it cannot form the government, being 22 short of the simple majority, nor does it want to sit in opposition.
This has set off a hectic politicking between the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both looking at the possibility of cobbling up a workable alliance - against the backdrop of the rancour developed in the past one month between the 25-year-old former allies.
The BJP will now be entirely dependent on a demanding opposition partner for pushing through any policy initiatives or major decisions, though the prime BJP chief ministerial contender Devendra Fadnavis is considered an aggressive go-getter.
While the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) provided some relief with an offer of unconditional external support, this may come with many hidden strings attached, besides growls from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
One option would be to approach the Shiv Sena for rapprochement and renewed alliance.
But there is a hitch - the BJP has already said the chief minister's post is non-negotiable, and would not have the post of deputy chief minister - and, according to some speculation, it may offer the Sena at best five ministries.
"In such a scenario, what attraction is left for us to support or join them," wondered a senior Sena leader Monday.
Uddhav has made it clear - the BJP is free to take anybody's help in government formation, but the Sena would not offer unsolicited support under any circumstances.
However, he kept the door ajar, saying if the BJP could guarantee upholding the state's integrity, the Sena might consider any proposal favourably.
Sunday's election outcome shows that the numbers game has become tricky on all fronts with many distinct possibilities emerging.
The BJP needs a minimum of 22 seats for a simple majority - with the NCP's 41, it crosses the minimum threshold comfortably.
In another potential scenario, if the Congress (42) and NCP (41) were to unite and offer 'outside support' to Sena (63), the three together achieve the magic figure of 146.
Some smaller parties and independents too may follow suit since all had one objective of keeping the "BJP out" at all costs.
The Congress is no stranger to such politics - it had tried out short-term external support several times to prop up various central governments from Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda, and I.K. Gujral.
Sena sources pointed out that another option for the BJP would be to name Pankaja Munde as the next chief minister, which has emotional overtones for both parties. Her additional credentials would be the first Maharashtrian woman from the OBC to get the post.
At present, all parties are keeping their cards close to their chest and a clearer picture is likely to emerge over the next couple of days.