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Crouching BJP, Guv Quota Seats: Why Sena-Cong-NCP Are Scrambling to Secure Loyalties and Nominations

File photo of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, CM Uddhav Thackeray and Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat  in Mumbai. (Image: PTI)

File photo of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, CM Uddhav Thackeray and Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat in Mumbai. (Image: PTI)

The MVA is going out of its way to err on the side of caution. A proposal for the council nominations that was scheduled to be tabled before the state cabinet was deferred reportedly on technical grounds to ensure that it was legally water-tight.

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Dhaval Kulkarni

It is a scenario that has continued to haunt the constituents of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Maharashtra—the chances of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) capitalising on the disgruntlement in the ranks to destabilise the government.

To soothe the ruffled feathers, the MVA regime under Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray is planning to set the ball rolling for the long-overdue nominations to the state legislative council from the governor’s quota, and appointments to various state-run corporations.

With the government completing a year in office next month, senior ministers say the government is eager to make these appointments soon.

The BJP, single-largest party in the state assembly, claims that it is a matter of time before the contradictions in this politically expedient alliance come to the fore, and the government collapses under its own contradictions. In private conversations, BJP leaders claim that disgruntled forces in the three parties are ripe pickings for it, ensuring that the party can make the transition from the opposition to treasury benches.

Hence, for the MVA it is necessary to disburse patronage to secure loyalties and ensure that things are at an even keel. However, when it comes to the 12 seats from the governor’s quota, leaders of the alliance admit that they may have to face resistance from unexpected quarters — Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari himself. The Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress are looking at splitting the seats equally between them.

To say that the MVA’s relations with the governor are rocky would be an understatement. The Shiv Sena is still upset at his role in the early-morning swearing-in of incumbent leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis as the Chief Minister for a second term with Ajit Pawar as his deputy. Though Ajit returned to the party fold in a matter of days to become Uddhav’s deputy chief minister, the anger still lingers.

Since Uddhav was not a member of the legislature when he was sworn in as the chief minister on November 28, he had to be elected to either house by May 27, failing which he would have had to resign. The Covid-19 pandemic had led to the elections to the nine seats for the legislative council being postponed, and the Cabinet recommended that Uddhav be nominated to the Upper House from one of the two seats in the governor’s quota, which were then vacant.

But Koshyari held out on technical grounds. Eventually, after much that went on beyond the scenes, the Election Commission of India (ECI) finally announced the polls which took place unopposed, thus averting a constitutional crisis.

Now, MVA leaders fear a repeat of this situation, if the governor insists on going by the textbook interpretation of the provisions to stymie their recommendations for the 12 seats which fell vacant in early June. The other worry is that the governor may not take a decision in a hurry despite the Cabinet's recommendation.

Article 171 (5) of the Constitution of India lays down that the members to be nominated by the governor shall consist of those having “special knowledge or practical experience” in literature, science, art, co-operative movement and social service.

The provision has been followed more in breach and for accommodating political nominees. Just a few poets and writers like Ga.Di.Madgulkar, Shantaram Nandgaonkar, Na.Do Mahanor and Ramdas Phutane and journalists like M.G Vaidya, have been members of the state legislative council through this quota so far.

The problem, as a Shiv Sena minister admitted, is that these provisions are nebulous and subject to interpretation and gubernatorial discretion. For instance, can a political leader or a worker who organises blood donation camps be considered as having a background in social service and hence be eligible for appointment to the legislative council through this route?

The Raj Bhawan located on the verdant sea-kissed 50-acre stretch on Malabar Hill has also emerged as a “parallel power centre” and sounding board for forces that are inimical to the MVA, and especially the Shiv Sena. For instance, actor Kangana Ranaut, who is locked in a bitter fight with the Shiv Sena over the Sushant Singh Rajput case, and the demolition of her office by the Mumbai civic body, met Koshyari last month. The actor said the governor listened to her like his “own daughter.”

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that Koshyari could have chosen his words better in his letter to Uddhav seeking the reopening of temples and places of worship, which have been closed due to the pandemic. Koshyari had questioned if Uddhav had “turned secular.”

With this experience behind them, the MVA is going out of its way to err on the side of caution. A proposal for the council nominations that was scheduled to be tabled before the state cabinet was deferred reportedly on technical grounds to ensure that it was legally water-tight.

These nominations to the council are more important for the Shiv Sena, which wants to accommodate its loyalists. There is unease in the party at grassroots workers being left out of the power matrix, with the Sena being forced to accommodate independents and smaller parties in the council of ministers from its quota. Nominating loyalists from the party will help overcome some of this disgruntlement. The Congress is also expected to use these nominations to balance the interests of the warring factions in its fold.

There are reports that the NCP is working on a senior BJP leader from North Maharashtra, who may be accommodated in the council from this quota, and may be given a ministerial berth later. The NCP is also eager to co-opt farmer leader and former Lok Sabha MP Raju Shetti, who has a strong base in sugarcane and dairy farmers.

There is a possibility of the NCP and Shiv Sena swapping some portfolios in the cabinet.

Once the nominations to the Upper House are through, the MVA is planning to complete the appointments to state-run corporations. These include cash-rich bodies like City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), and Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), and those which are sinecures but with mandatory perks of office.

But, this process, as leaders of the MVA admit, is incumbent on the governor's position during the council nominations.

May you live in interesting times, goes a Chinese curse. The people of Maharashtra may be living out this moment.

The author is a Mumbai-based journalist and author of ‘The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj and the Shadow of their Senas.’ Views are personal.


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