After being elected the BJP legislature party leader, Devendra Fadnavis is all set to become the chief minister for a second term. He is only the second CM after Vasantrao Naik (1967-72) to complete a full term in office. His second foray, however, is likely to be more challenging as the BJP’s numbers have reduced from 122 to 105 in the 288-member Assembly, while the Opposition Congress-NCP combine has been able to increase its tally from 83 to 98. However, the biggest test will be managing the Shiv Sena, which has been sulking ever since it became the junior partner in the saffron alliance in 2014.
A week has passed since the results were announced, but there is still no clarity on the formation of the new government. The Shiv Sena wants half of the ministerial berths and the CM's post for 2.5 years. The Uddhav Thackeray-led party claims that these were the terms agreed upon by the leadership of both parties while entering into a pre-poll alliance. On the other hand, the BJP claims it had agreed on equitable, not equal, distribution of power.
Though the Sena is playing hardball and claiming it has other options, it has no better option than to go with the BJP. The Sena has won 56 seats and has the support of seven Independent MLAs. The party forming a government with the support of the NCP (54 MLAs) and the Congress (44 MLAs) is a numerical possibility. But in practice, such a government is unlikely to last long. The Congress and NCP do not want to commit their support and want Mr Thackeray to make the first move. And even if Mr Thackeray decides to part ways with the BJP, the sword of “Operation Lotus” will always be hanging over his head. The Sena chief is an astute politician who’s aware of his limitations and unlikely to take any adventurous decision. Therefore, the Sena’s demand for equal sharing of power is nothing but a bargaining tactic.
In 2014, BJP had given only 12 ministerial berths to Sena, including six Cabinet and six ministers of state portfolios. The BJP had also kept all crucial portfolios such as home, revenue, urban development, finance and rural development to itself. This time, Mr Fadnavis will have to be more generous. The Sena can get 16 ministers in the 43-member Cabinet, including the revenue portfolio. The party can also demand and get full control of the public works and health departments, which were bifurcated in 2014 when half the control of these departments was given to BJP ministers.
The Sena also wants the post of deputy chief minister and Mr Fadnavis is ready to part with it. In fact, Uddhav Thackeray can take a cue from Karnataka and demand more than one DCM. After all, it is just a decorative post created for political convenience. It has no constitutional validity and DCM has no special powers in the government. The Sena's newly-elected leader of legislative party, Eknath Shinde, is likely to be the DCM as Uddhav Thackeray does not want his son Aaditya, who is a first-time MLA and the first member of the family to contest an election, to take charge of the legislature party so soon.
In all likelihood, Mr Fadnavis will take oath early next week and form the government with the Sena’s support. However, his troubles may have just begun, as he’ll have a cantankerous bedfellow to contend with for the next five years....