India's ruling BJP party suffers setback as richest state slips out of its control

Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at a hold up placards after learning of initial poll results in Maharashtra's capital of Mumbai on Oct 24, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (REUTERS) - In a setback, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party has decided not to form the government in the western state of Maharashtra - the country's richest - leaving opposition groups scrambling on Monday (Nov 11) to cobble together an alliance.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest part in a state election in Maharashtra last month, and was expected to comfortably retain power with the help of its regional ally, the Shiv Sena.

But in-fighting between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, which has gone on for a fortnight, has culminated in the allies parting ways, dealing the first major political blow to Modi's ruling party since it retained power with a landslide mandate in a May general election.

On Sunday, the BJP's state president Chandrakant Patil said his party had decided to not stake claim to form government.

Shiv Sena, which is still officially part of a ruling alliance led by the BJP, is now trying to form a government in Maharashtra with the support of opposition parties, a senior party official said on Monday.

"We have required numbers to form the government and we will prove it," the Shiv Sena official said, declining to be named.

In a tweet on Monday, the Shiv Sena's Arvind Sawant, the federal Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, also quit from the Modi government.

Whereas the BJP and Shiv Sena share Hindu nationalist sentiments, Shiv Sena's political base in Maharashtra is the Hindu Marathi community.

Maharashtra - home to India's financial capital Mumbai - has a 288-member assembly, meaning Shiv Sena, which won 56 seats, will need the support of other parties to be able to come to power.

Leaders from the opposition Congress Party and the Nationalist Congress Party were meeting separately on Monday to decide on the possibility of an alliance with the Shiv Sena.

If no single party or alliance is able to stake claim to forming a government, then the state could be put under the direct supervision of the federal government until fresh elections are called.

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