Mumbai: Barely hours after the single largest entity, the BJP, conceded that it was not in position to form the government despite a "clear public mandate," Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari invited the Shiv Sena, the second largest party, to indicate its willingness and ability to form the government.
Though a specific time-frame is not indicated in the Raj Bhavan communique, it is learnt that the Sena, which has 56 members in the 288-member house, may have barely 24 hours – until 7.30 pm on Monday -- to stake claim, said sources.
Though the BJP has stepped aside, party president Amit Shah is convinced that the Congress may not support the Sena-led formulation and the rebuff will drive its erstwhile ally back into the saffron fold.
With that, the shoe is on the other foot. While both the NCP and the Congress are ready to go with the flow, the two parties are in no tearing hurry to fall in line.
With only Sonia Gandhi authorised to take the final decision, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut is likely to knock at her door on Monday. He gave an indication of the changing dynamic when he said earlier in the day that the Sena does not consider the Congress its enemy.
State Congress President Balasaheb Thorat, too, will be within earshot when Raut discusses the matter with Gandhi. Our Correspondent reports from Jaipur that the jittery Congress has lodged its flock of 44 MLAs at a luxurious resort in the Pink City.
They met in the morning and, as is the party ritual, passed a one-line resolution asking Sonia Gandhi to take a call in the matter. (Incidentally, three former Chief Ministers -- Sushil Kumar Shine, Prithviraj Chauhan and Ashok Chavan -- have been asked to keep a watch on the MLAs.
Both the NCP and the Congress have made it adequately clear that their support would depend on the Sena categorically announcing that its alliance with the BJP is over for good and then withdrawing its sole nominee in the Union Cabinet, Heavy Industry Minister Arvind Sawant. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Governor's invite, a fresh round of back-channel negotiations has started.
At the brief meeting with the Governor at Raj Bhavan, caretaker chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis - who had confidently proclaimed that the BJP would form the government - was extremely subdued.
"The Shiv Sena has insulted the public mandate... If it is in a position to form the government along with the support of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party, our best wishes are with them," said Chandrakant Patil, who was flanked by his former minister colleagues Ashish Shelar, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Vinod Tawde, Pankaja Munde and Girish Mahajan. Most of these leaders are not in the Fadnavis camp.
Reacting to the developments, NCP's national spokesperson Nawab Malik said that there is no formal proposal from the Sena on the government formation.
"However, our national President will clear the party's stand at our party legislators' meeting scheduled in Mumbai on Tuesday," Malik told media persons.
Earlier on Sunday, Sena President Uddhav Thackeray met his legislators - all cooped up in The Retreat - a five-star hotel in Madh, Malad (north-west Mumbai), and gave them a pep talk that a Shiv Sena CM would soon be sworn-in.