In a move that could change political equations in the state, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday to remove Congress legislator Shivajirao Deshmukh as the chairman of the legislative council through a no-trust motion.
The motion moved by NCP polled 45 votes, while 21 legislators from Congress and Kapil Patil of the Lok Bharti and Jogendra Kavade of People’s Republican Party voted against it. Seven members of Shiv Sena abstained from voting. In the house of 78, NCP has 28, Congress 21 members and BJP 12 members. Three independents along with Jayant Patil of the Peasants and Workers Party supported the motion.
For the first time in the history of the state legislature, a chairman was removed from his post, evoking strong reactions from the Congress and Sena, which is part of the ruling alliance.
This is expected to further increase the bitterness between the ruling allies, BJP and Sena, who are locked in a tussle for the past couple of weeks.
It is also being seen as BJP’s warning to the Sena leadership that it has the option to ally with NCP if the latter tries to pull out of the ruling alliance, or even if it attempts to corner the senior partner.
Deshmukh, a veteran leader who has been the chairman for three terms (more than a decade), refused to bow down despite appeals by NCP, the largest party in the upper house of Maharashtra Legislature. “I have done no wrong to ?face this situation,” said Deshmukh. “For me, life has always been a struggle and I am ready for another one.”
Significantly, Deshmukh is known to be a hardcore opponent of NCP chief Sharad Pawar. He had firmly backed Prithviraj Chavan when NCP had told the Congress leadership to remove him as chief minister following a tussle between the two parties over allegations made against the then deputy chief minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam.
The debate, which took place for more than five hours, saw barbs being exchanged between the Sena and BJP and Congress and NCP.
Sena expressed its unhappiness over BJP supporting NCP’s move and asked why the no-trust motion was being moved. “It is a black day for democracy. Deshmukh has been a father figure and it is not right to remove him in such an unceremonious manner,” said Sena leader Ramdas Kadam, who is also the state environment minister.
State NCP chief Sunil Tatkare blamed the Congress for this impasse. “Since we have the numbers, it is imperative for us to have our chairman. Deshmukh should have ideally resigned instead of facing such ignominy,” said Tatkare.
Congress legislator Manikrao Thakre accused the BJP of lusting for power. “They are just after seats of power,” he said.
Senior BJP leader and state revenue minister Eknath Khadse sought to justify the BJP’s decision. “Our stand is in line with PM Modi’s slogan of Congress-free India,” said Khadse, adding that even Sena had ditched them by backing Congress candidates such as Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential polls.