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When Mumbai witnessed showmanship of cunning political manoeuvres

By Anindya Banerjee

It was a night of long knives in Maharashtra politics that saw it all — coup within a family, outsmarting the smartest Maratha politician Sharad Pawar — and invocation of Rule 12 of the the Government of India (Transaction of Business) to bypass the need of Union Cabinet’s approval for revocation of the President’s rule.

What happened between 9 p.m. on Friday, when Pawar announced that consensus on Uddhav Thackeray’s name as Chief Minister was reached and 7.50 a.m. on Saturday, when Governor B.S. Koshiyari began swearing in a BJP-led government, is a textbook example of what smart politics is all about.

Ajit Pawar landed at Raj Bhawan with a group of MLAs, said to be 40, to support a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of which Devendra Fadnavis would be the chief executive. It was a cold blooded revenge exacted by Fadnavis of all the vitriol hurled at him and his bosses in Delhi by Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut and later by Udhav Thackeray.

Bhupendra Yadav, BJP General Secretary and Amit Shah’s trusted man, silently landed in Mumbai, as media frenzy was focused on Matoshree, the Thackerays’ residence.Behind the scenes, the final touches were given to the gameplan. With Yadav around, Fadnavis sealed the deal with Ajit Pawar, at 11.45 PM, to be precise.

It was decided that Fadnavis would be the Chief Minister and Pawar his deputy. Within minutes, at 11.55 PM, a call was placed to Amit Shah, who was awake in New Delhi and aware of what’s happening in Mumbai.

When Shah picked the call, there was only one request — let the oath-taking be complete before Mumbai wakes up. It was to avoid any derailment of the deal. Shah was authorised with the go ahead from 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, for the same.

At 12.30 a.m, the Governor, who was to travel to Delhi, cancelled the trip after being informed that the BJP-NCP (breakaway) had numbers and wished to form the government at the earliest.At 2.10 a.m, the Secretary to the Governor was told to submit revocation of President’s Rule order.

Sources said, the BJP wanted the swearing in to start at 6.30 a.m. But they –Fadnavis, Yadav and Ajit Pawar in Mumbai and Shah in Delhi — were told, the arrangement for it could begin only in the morning and the ceremony could be delayed by an hour, at 7.30 a.m.

Meanwhile, the President’s Rule was revoked at 5.47 a.m. The Centre invoked Rule 12 that gives special powers to the Prime Minister to bypass Cabinet in revoking the President’s Rule. The last time Modi invoked Rule 12 was to get amendments to the Lokpal Bill passed in the 16th Lok Sabha.

According to sources, Pawar and Fadnavis stayed together till the oath ceremony. However, as the day progressed, damage control exercise by the NCP begun. It claimed efforts were on to bring most NCP MLAs back. Dhananjay Munde, nephew of late Gopinath Munde and another major player of the drama, remained incommunicado through the day.

While the Congress, the NCP and the Sena claimed the BJP lacked numbers, Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP asserted it would be proved on the floor of the House.

What will happen tomorrow is another story. But between the sundown on November 22 and the daybreak of November 23, it was the great showmanship of cunning political manoeuvres with the BJP outsmarting the rivals at their game.