Maharashtra constitutional crisis nearing end?Updated: Apr 30, 2020 23:54 IST
A day after chief minister Uddhav Thackeray rang up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought his intervention to end the impasse in the state over the former’s election to state legislature, a new option has opened up.
Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Thursday requested the Election Commission of India to hold elections for nine seats to the state legislative Council at the earliest, with a view to end the political uncertainty in the state. A little before that, three ruling parties in the state, the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress wrote to the EC seeking elections to the nine council seats that are to be elected by members of the state Assembly. The impending constitutional crisis in Maharashtra may get resolved if the EC accepts Koshyari’s and MVA’s request. It also means Koshyari is not keen on Thackeray’s election to the Council as Governor’s nominee.
Thackeray was not a member of the state legislature when he took oath as the chief minister on November 28. As per the provisions under the Constitution, he was supposed to get elected to the state legislative Assembly or Council within six months, which is by May 27. If it doesn’t happen, he will have to resign as the chief minister.
Thackeray had planned to contest the election to the Council, as nine members were retiring on April 24. However the election was postponed by the EC due to the Covid-19 outbreak. On April 9, the state cabinet recommended Governor to nominate Thackeray on the legislative council as two out of 12 seats to the council that are nominated by Governor were lying vacant. However, Koshyari is avoiding the same since the seats are nominated from among the achievers in art, social service, literature and other fields and he doesn’t want to nominate politicians, according to a Raj Bhavan official. Further, there are norms that Governor nominated members should not become ministers.
Koshyari had also indicated that he would seek the Centre’s opinion on the issue as the state cabinet had advised him to nominate Thackeray as a special case considering the current health crisis in the state.
It was then that Thackeray chose to talk directly to Prime Minister Modi. Following communication between a close aide of Thackeray and an official from PMO, Thackeray dialled Modi on Wednesday requesting his intervention. “The option (for council election) came up after the two leaders spoke,” said a senior Sena leader, seeking anonymity.
On Thursday afternoon, two Sena leaders, party secretary Milind Narvekar, who was Thackeray’s intermediary with Koshyari, and urban development minister Eknath Shinde met the Governor and handed him letters written to the EC by the three parties and also a letter by Thackeray requesting Governor to recommend the EC to hold elections to council. Koshyari then immediately wrote to the EC requesting early election for nine seats to the council, according to information available.
The ball is now in the EC’s court. The election authority is likely to seek union home ministry’s opinion before deciding on the request. “The Governor has made the request to the Election Commission to fill the 9 seats in the legislative council, that have been lying vacant from 24th April, with a view to end the current uncertainty in the State,”said a release issued by Raj Bhavan on Thursday evening.
In his letter, Koshyari has stated that the Central Government has announced many relaxation measures regarding the enforcement of lockdown in the country. As such the elections to the council seats can be held with certain guidelines. In their letters, the three ruling parties said that on account of “peculiar extraordinary unforeseen facts and circumstances” Thackeray has not been able to get himself elected to the legislative council.
They have also assured the EC that they would follow social distancing and other precautions that are required under the current circumstances.
BJP leader and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis indicated that things might be sorted out in cooperation with the Centre. “We welcome Hon Governor @BSKoshyari ji’s decision to recommend the ECI to conduct the election of the 9 vacant seats of Maharashtra Legislative Council expeditiously. We are sure that the ECI, in consultation with Ministry of Home Affairs will take decision to take election ASAP,”he tweeted. “This will prevent Maharashtra from going into instability in the testing times of #CoronaOutbreak &will also uphold the values of our Constitution....This also underlines that in a democratic system, dialogue is of utmost importance,” he said. A Sena minister said it is likely that the election would be held unopposed once the EC clears it. “The developments have happened in less than a day after Thackeray spoke to PM Modi. If the election to the Council is held now, it would be clearly following the intervention by Modi. In that case, it is likely that the four parties--three ruling parties and BJP-- would informally decide on fielding nine candidates between them so that the entire exercise of getting 288 members of assembly to Mumbai for voting in the middle of Covid-19 outbreak can be avoided,” he said. He also said that the party is prepared to explore other options as well. It includes approaching the Supreme Court, seeking directives to the Governor.
He said the Sena is hopeful that it need not execute MVA’s last option which is Thackeray’s resignation. “It would not come to that (Thackeray’s resignation as CM),” the leader said. If Thackeray resigns, he could be re-elected as the leader of the MVA coalition and form the government again amid the ongoing battle against the coronavirus outbreak in Maharashtra.
Most MVA leaders however were sceptical about Koshyari’s move. “We would wait to see whether the EC holds election,”said a senior NCP leader. Two Sena ministers HT spoke to also expressed apprehensions.
“Today’s developments mean Governor Koshyari is not accepting state cabinet’s recommendation to nominate Thackeray to council. If the Election Commission holds election for council, the issue would be resolved, but what if it doesn’t? Or what if it is legally challenged. The possibility of a crisis is not yet over,”said political commentator Pratap Asbe.