It was not the opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress Party, but ally Shiv Sena that targeted the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on the first day of the winter session of the state legislature on Monday. The Sena strongly objected to state Advocate General Shrihari Aney’s remarks on statehood for Vidarbha and demanded his removal from the post.
Aney had on Saturday said that the Centre should hold a referendum on the issue of carving a Vidarbha state out of Maharashtra. He had also said that 80% people would vote in favour of creating a Vidarbha state.
The BJP has ruled out sacking Aney, and has defended him, saying that the AG would not say anything against the interest of the state.
Both houses of legislature were adjourned on the first day of the session after paying homage to former members of the Legislature and former state governor Omprakash Mehra who died recently. But the Sena versus BJP face-off over the Vidarbha issue marked the beginning of the winter session.
While senior Sena minister Subhash Desai put forth the demand for Aney’s removal before chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, several party leaders publicly targeted Aney. The issue led to a face-off between legislators of Sena and BJP outside the assembly hall on Monday, with a group of Sena legislators led by Arjun Khotkar, Pratap Sarnaik and Gulabrao Patil shouting slogans in support of united Maharashtra and some BJP legislators led by Ashish Deshmukh responding with pro-Vidarbha state slogans.
The Shiv Sena, meanwhile, held protests across the city against Aney’s remarks. The Sena burned effigies of Aney and even attacked chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Sena Vibhag Pramukh Rajendra Raut said Fadnavis must distance himself from the remarks. “Fadnavis has openly backed the idea of a separate Vidarbha in the past. Hence, we suspect that Aney is only mouthing the CM’s thoughts. So Aney must be sacked immediately, failing which we will continue with our agitation on the streets,” Raut said.
Sena sources said that instructions had gone out from Matoshree to demand Aney’s ouster, a fact which signals that the Sena is keen on cornering its ally BJP on the issue.
A senior Sena minister said they had opposed Aney’s appointment as AG when his name was being considered for the post. “We had pointed out to the CM that Aney was a known supporter of statehood for Vidarbha, so he should not be appointed as state’s top legal advisor. The CM ignored our objection,” said the minister. “Now we have made it clear to the CM that he should be removed. We will stick to our demand,” the minister said.
Significantly, Aney, a renowned lawyer, was handpicked by Fadnavis for the post of AG. Fadnavis, known as a strong advocate of Vidarbha statehood demand, chose not to make any adverse comments on Aney’s remarks.
While Fadnavis did not comment on the issue on Monday, BJP’s only defence came from education minister Vinod Tawde, who ruled out removal of the AG.
“The question does not arise. Aney will not take any stand that is against the state’s interest,” he said.
No plans to resign: Attorney general Shrihari Aney
When asked if he intended to resign, Aney categorically denied it, and said that if he were to go, the government would have to remove him. “Only the governor of the state has the power to do so, since I have been appointed by him – no one else can therefore ask me to leave. And I know the Governor will not take such a step before he talks with me about it,” said Aney
Meanwhile, a lecture of Aney’s on ‘Breach of privilege and contempt of legislature’ at Vidhan Bhavan on Monday was postponed. Aney said he was in Delhi to appear before the Supreme Court in a case.
The main opposition party, the Congress, will take out a morcha in protest against the BJP-Sena state government in Nagpur on Tuesday. The Congress said the morcha will highlight the state government’s failure to provide relief to drought-affected farmers, as well as the fact that prices of essential commodities such as pulses are spiralling.
The morcha will be addressed by state Congress chief Ashok Chavan and other senior leaders such as Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Pritvhiraj Chavan and Mohan Prakash, All India Congress Committee in-charge for the state.