The election for the Speaker’s post in the Maharashtra state Assembly on Wednesday will be the first test of strength for the new BJP government.
With the Shiv Sena as well as the Congress fielding candidates, the contest will be a three-way affair, a departure from the tradition of unopposed polls, which has continued for more than a decade. The BJP’s Haribhau Bagde, Sena’s Vijay Auti and Congress’ Varsha Gaikwad will contest the polls, unless Sena decides to support the BJP government.
The Assembly rules call for a secret ballot, and a three-way contest mandates that the winner must win more than the total votes cast for the other two candidates.
In such a contest, the BJP will have to secure the support of the NCP to sail through, or rely on cross-voting by legislators from other parties. The post of Speaker is crucial to the Fadnavis-led minority government in the state Assembly.
“If the BJP fails to win more than the total votes of the other two candidates, there will have to be a re-poll after eliminating the weakest candidate. The role of the NCP is thus crucial. If the Congress, NCP and Sena come together in an unlikely situation, they can potentially defeat the BJP candidate,” said an official of the state legislature.
For instance, if the Sena secures the votes of all its 63 legislators and Congress of all its 42 legislators, then the BJP must win more than 105 votes. The BJP can bag around 132 votes, but the calculations don’t go according to plan if the NCP’s 41 legislators support the Sena or Congress candidates.
Devendra Fadnavis, after an evening meeting with his Cabinet, decided to build consensus by asking both the Sena and the Congress to withdraw their candidates.
“It’s tradition that the Speaker’s election is unopposed and so it was decided that the CM will talk to both the Congress and Sena,” said BJP minister Vinod Tawde. However, the Congress and the Sena both rebuffed BJP’s request.
“We waited till 12am today. The BJP should have made this move before we decided to put up our candidate,” said group leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil.
Uddhav Thackeray has not given any assurances to Fadnavis either, linking the outcome of the election to the negotiations with the BJP in Delhi over power-sharing.
Congress candidate Varsha Gaikwad also met NCP chief Sharad Pawar later in the evening, seeking his party’s support for her candidature. “Since NCP is saying that they will be sitting in the Opposition, we have asked for their support for the Speaker’s post. NCP can support BJP for trust motion and also support our claim to the Speaker’s post. I spoke to NCP state president Sunil Tatkare requesting the same,” said state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre.
BJP has got majority of the independents and smaller parties on board for the Speaker’s contest. It is also expected to negotiate with NCP for posts of chairman and leader of Opposition in the council.