With President's Rule in effect from November 12, Maharashtra politics shifted from high-tension to a relaxed mode and the main contenders for government formation breathed easy.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Congress and Shiv Sena — who seem to be headed for an unprecedented "MahaShivAghadi" alliance — are currently engaged in formal/informal talks at various levels with their respective shopping lists of demands.
The crux of the new partnership would be, of course, the coveted post of Chief Minister, a tug-of-war on which saw the pre-poll alliance of Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Party collapsed on Monday as the BJP looked on silently.
Under the new upcoming scenario, an initial formula discussed was Shiv Sena and NCP would share the post of CM for 30 months each with Congress keeping the Deputy Chief Minister post for the full tenure of 60 months (five years), sources in various parties revealed.
Then a new formula was floated from the Congress side - the three parties sharing the CM's term for 20 months each and also rotating the Deputy Chief Minister for a like period by all parties.
However, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray — who discarded his trademark kurtas for a set of formal shirt and trousers — angrily showed his fangs and rejected it outright.
A party source said it was the Sena demand with the BJP, which did not budge on sharing the CM's post for 30 months, so there was no question of settling for a term of 20 months — "How shall we face our legislators and supporters?"
A counter suggestion was to give Sena 30 months, while the NCP-Congress could share it for 15 months each and also divide the post of deputy chief minister among themselves.
Presently, the master-potters Congress' Ahmed Patel and NCP president Sharad Pawar are currently giving finishing touches to the final pot of goodies from which all the parties would sup for the next five years.
Another issue is the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) among the three parties for which Patel, Pawar and other leaders are poring over the manifestos of the three parties to pick out the agreeable issues and weeding out the contentious ones.
These would include the obvious agreeable like — complete waiver of farm loans, reviewing the implementation of the crop insurance and related schemes, boosting the agricultural produce market, et al.
Among the contentious ones could be — five percent reservations for the Muslim community which was spiked by the former BJP regime, Shiv Sena's demand for conferring a Bharat Ratna on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, soften its 'Hindutva' agenda to ensure the new alliance doesn't get a saffron tinge, adopt a more inclusive approach towards all non-Maharashtrians, particularly north-Indians, minorities, etc.
It may be recalled that when the outgoing Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had implemented reservations in education and government jobs for the Marathas, all state parties — including the Opposition Congress-NCP — had full-throatily supported the historic move.
Some Congress-NCP leaders have privately lauded Thackeray's decision earlier this week to politely show door to Hindutva leader and Shiv Pratisthan Hindustan leader Sambhaji Bhide 'Guruji' who was hoping to win over the Sena back to the BJP fold, and his decision to withdraw the party's sole nominee, Heavy Industries Minister Arvind Sawant from the union cabinet.
A section of Congress-NCP is confident that despite all the vexed issues that may confront the potential alliance with Sena, things would be amicably sorted out as "Pawar hai to mumkin hai".
A worried BJP — which Thackeray revealed is still in hot pursuit of the former ally — has now deployed the Sena's dreaded bogey-man and former CM Narayan Rane, to help it (BJP) muster the magical 145 simple majority figure in the 288-member assembly.
Leaders on all sides have warned that this time, it will be near-impossible to engineer defections or horse-trading by/from any parties as the defectors' could face the prospect of finishing their long-term political careers at the altar of short-term pecuniary gains.
In the meantime, the state awaits the dawn of a new era of coalition politics with the 134-year old Congress and 20-year old NCP planning to hug their bitter opponent, the 53-year old Sena — barely three days before the seventh death anniversary of its founder, the late Bal Thackeray on November 17.