In the upper house of the state legislature, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis is facing problems almost similar to the ones being faced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Rajya Sabha.

Both enjoy a comfortable majority and can push for any important bill on their own strength in the lower houses.  But when it comes to the upper house — state Legislative Council or Raja Sabha– both have to look for support from various quarters.

During the current winter session of the state legislature in Nagpur, Phadnavis realised that he has to be extra careful to ensure smooth proceedings in the upper house where the BJP-Shiv Sena and their friends put together do not have majority and any major bill can be stalled by the Congress-NCP combine.

The BJP was on a slippery ground initially as they were ambiguous about taking support from the Sena, which had become more demanding, and wanted to see whether it can sail well with outside support provided by Sharad Pawar-led NCP.

But the party quickly realised that such ambiguous attitude towards its long standing poll ally in Maharashtra is creating bad vibes among its partners in other states and the central leadership of the party finally inched towards having an understanding with the Sena before the winter session of the state legislature.

Phadnavis is now on a stronger wicket and can take on the might of the Congress and the NCP in the house since he has the support of 195 MLAs in the 288-member legislative assembly. For the first time in two decades, the government is having what the opposition describes as “brute” majority in the lower house. However, this is no guarantee that the government can sail well during the session.

 First, the opposition, though reduced in numbers, has become more aggressive. Second, the ruling Maha-Yuti does not have the majority in the upper house. It has to woo many smaller parties and get tacit support from the opposition on major issues.

The Congress and the NCP, which ruled the state for 15 years without break, have almost fallen apart and are fighting for occupying major opposition space.

The NCP, which initially gave unconditional support to the Phadnavis-led government from outside, is now demanding the post of the leader of the opposition since it is supported by MLAs from smaller parties.

 When NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad was suspended from the house, NCP legislators walked out expecting the Congress legislators to follow suit. But the Congress did not back them on the ground that NCP had remained neutral when Congress MLAs were suspended by the ruling parties in the Mumbai session.

Although the two Congress parties had decided to take a strong position against the BJP-led government and promised to mutually cooperate on the floor of the house, there are no signs of it so far.  A notice for no confidence motion against senior Congress man and Legislative council chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh by NCP has created a rift between the two parties.

The chief minister’s go-ahead for an inquiry into allegations of corruption in the relevant departments headed by senior NCP leaders Ajit Pawar and Chhagan Bhujbal is seem as a pressure tactic by the ruling government to keep NCP on its side.

 Still, Phadnavis will have to do lot of tightrope walking as there will be pressure for compromise to ensure passage of major bills in the upper house. But BJP’s floor mangers hope that the fight between Congress and NCP over the post of opposition leader will ensure passage of bills in both the houses.

NCP knows that BJP wants to create a Congress-free political atmosphere in the country. It is also aware that there is no growth for the party until Congress is decimated in the state. Hence it will keep quiet when the BJP takes on the Congress.

 The question being discussed in political circles is whether the BJP will induct a few leaders from NCP in the cabinet to make the government more effective.

 BJP will now focus on gaining further foothold in the legislative Council.  It is a complicated and long drawn process since elections are held once in two years.

Prakash Bal Joshi