Biggest test yet for Speaker
When the hearing began, it was made clear by Narwekar that nobody except the MLAs and their lawyers would be allowed inside the hall in the Vidhan Bhavan
Last Thursday, Maharashtra assembly speaker Rahul Narwekar began hearing the disqualification petitions filed by rival Shiv Sena factions against each other’s MLAs. Last week also saw the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP telling the Election Commission of India that it had sought disqualification of 40 of its 53 MLAs who have joined the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP alliance. This now means that Narwekar has to deal with petitions seeking disqualification of 93 MLAs, including 53 from two factions of the Shiv Sena.
This is the first time in the history of the Maharashtra assembly that the fate of so many MLAs, including a chief minister, a deputy chief minister and several ministers, is uncertain. For the next few months, Narwekar will have a lot of work on hand: conducting hearings of the MLAs and then deciding who could be disqualified under the provisions of the anti-defection law. It will be his biggest test in his political career so far.
On Thursday when the hearing began, it was made clear by Narwekar that nobody except the MLAs and their lawyers would be allowed inside the hall in the Vidhan Bhavan where the hearing would be conducted. No video recording would be allowed either. The proceedings will be like a court with lawyers of the MLAs arguing on behalf of their clients.
Going by what Narwekar has said, he may choose to give an individual hearing to every MLAs to present their side. This would mean a prolonged hearing. The current assembly’s tenure ends in a year. In political circles, it is being speculated that the decision will not come for three to four months and probably not before the next Lok Sabha elections. There is also another possibility: Narwekar, a BJP MLA from South Mumbai, is among the probable candidates for the Mumbai South parliamentary constituency which the BJP is keen to contest. If he is picked as a candidate by the party and gets elected to the Lok Sabha, there will be a new speaker who may need time to understand the disqualification cases from the beginning. And if the Maharashtra assembly elections are held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections, the verdict will be only of technical and legal interest.
Khadse versus Khadse
The Lok Sabha elections may see an interesting battle in Jalgaon district between senior NCP leader Eknath Khadse and his daughter-in-law, Raksha, who is a sitting BJP MP. The context here is the political arithmetic of North Maharashtra. Aiming to get the locally strong Leva Patil community on his side, NCP chief Sharad Pawar is promoting Khadse, a popular leader in the community. He has also appointed Khadse’s daughter, Rohini, as the head of the women’s wing of his party.
According to his aides, Pawar is looking at the Leva Patil and Maratha combination, which could be a strong political equation if it works out. Recently, state NCP chief Jayant Patil indicated that Khadse could be fielded from Raver constituency in Jalgaon district. Soon after this, his BJP counterpart, Chandrashekhar Bawankule announced that the party could renominate Raksha, its sitting MP.
It was widely believed that Raksha could join the NCP ahead of the elections. Now it appears that she has been convinced to stay back in the BJP. On her part, Raksha said she would be willing to contest if the BJP renominated her from Raver. With the BJP planning to counter Pawar’s move in North Maharashtra, Raver may see the daughter-in-law challenging her father-in-law in the Lok Sabha elections.
Damage control weapons
It is no secret that the ruling alliance is trying hard to control the damage caused by the lathi charge on people who had gathered to support Maratha reservation activist Manoj Jarange-Patil at Antarvali Sarati village in Jalna district on September 1. Opposition leaders suspect that Hindutva activist Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide reached the venue of Jarange-Patil’s hunger strike on the request of a senior BJP leader.
Sitting on the dais with Jarange-Patil, Bhide insisted that the trio running the government—CM Shinde and his deputies, Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar—were good people and would never betray the Marathas. He also gave a clean chit to Fadnavis in the lathi charge incident, pointing fingers at people in the “system” instead. Even as this was happening, there was an announcement that the government would bring back the “wagh nakhe” or tiger claw—a weapon used by Shivaji Maharaj to kill Adil Shah’s general Afzal Khan—from a London museum. The opposition suspects that even this move is aimed at pleasing the Maratha community, which literally worships King Shivaji.
Chief minister in 2024
During his visit to Pir Mohammad Sadiq dargah in Sangamner in Ahmednagar district recently, revenue minister and chief ministerial aspirant Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil offered prayers. The clerics, while praying that his wishes be fulfilled by the Almighty, added on their own: “2024 me mukhyamantri bane (he should become chief minister in 2024)”. While those present with Vikhe Patil immediately responded with “Ameen”, the minister just smiled. He knows that the road to the sixth floor of Mantralaya has got tougher since June last year.