They do not behave in a manner befitting their position,
This is tit-for-tat,
If people do not (behave as they should),
Then how can an aircraft (be given to them)?
This poem by poet-satirist Ramdas Phutane in Marathi titled ‘Viman’ (aircraft) appeared in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna a day after the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) regime denied use of the state government’s aircraft to governor BS Koshyari. The poem and its placement on the front-page with reports about the controversy make it clear that the Sena is deriving vicarious pleasure from the government’s snub to Koshyari, who has been accused by MVA ministers of politicizing the Raj Bhawan and turning it into a “parallel power center.”
On Thursday, Koshyari was scheduled to travel to Mussoorie for a function and had sought the use of the Maharashtra government’s aircraft. The Governor needs permission from the general administration department (GAD), which is usually vested with the chief minister to use the government aircraft or helicopter. The Governor’s secretariat had written to the government seeking this approval and also informed the chief minister’s office (CMO).
Koshyari reached the Mumbai airport and boarded the state government’s eight-seater Cessna Citation 560 XLS aircraft. However, few minutes later, he was told that permissions for the use of the plane had not been given. The Governor then deboarded and travelled by commercial aircraft to his destination. However, the CMO has claimed that the Governor’s secretariat was informed in advance that permissions for using the plane had not been granted. The state government has asked for the responsibility to be fixed on official concerned in the Raj Bhawan.
Reports suggest that an official in the CMO had suggested to his counterpart in the Governor’s establishment that the aircraft would be made available if Koshyari spoke to Uddhav personally.
Predictably, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which Koshyari was a leader before taking up his gubernatorial position, has accused the state government of playing petty politics. The BJP has accused the MVA of slighting the constitutional head of government and also indulging in “undemocratic” acts. On their part, Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut has claimed that the state government has followed the norms in denying the use of the aircraft to the Governor.
That the Governor and the MVA, especially the Shiv Sena, whose party president heads the government, have a bristling and uneasy relationship is one of the worst kept secrets. The MVA has a long list of grievances against Koshyari. The latest trigger in the ongoing cold war between the MVA and Koshyari was the Governor sitting on the list of 12 nominees to the state legislative council from the Governor’s quota.
These nominations are crucial for the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress, which make up the MVA, to strike social and political alliances. However, despite the state cabinet approving the names in October, the Governor is yet to grant his crucial stamp of approval.
The Shiv Sena is still upset at Koshyari’s role in the early-morning swearing-in of 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.
Even during the swearing in of the Congress minister KC Padvi, who chanted slogans while taking oath of office and secrecy, Koshyari had called him back and asked him to take the oath in the prescribed format.
Since Uddhav was not a member of the legislature when he was sworn in as the chief minister on 28 November 2019, he had to be elected to either house by 27 May 2020, failing which he would have 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.
However, Koshyari held out on technical grounds. Eventually, after much activity that went on beyond the scenes, the Election Commission of India (ECI) finally announced the polls, which took place unopposed, thus averting a brewing constitutional crisis.
Actor Kangana Ranaut, who was 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 and later said the Governor listened to her like his “own daughter.” The Governor also summoned former chief secretary and the chief minister’s principal advisor Ajoy Mehta and expressed his displeasure at the demolition.
In October last year, Koshyari also wrote to Uddhav suggesting that temples and places that had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic be reopened for worshippers. In his scathing and sarcastic letter, Koshyari questioned if Uddhav had “turned secular.” Upset at his Hindutva credentials being questioned, Uddhav wrote back saying he did not need a certificate from anyone.
Union home minister Amit Shah too admitted that Koshyari should have chosen his words carefully in his letter to the chief minister.
The latest confrontation between the government and the Governor was in January during a protest by farmers seeking the repeal of the three farm laws. It was charged that the Governor had left for Goa instead of meeting the delegation that was supposed to call on him. NCP chief Sharad Pawar slammed Koshyari stating that he had the time to meet Ranaut, but not farmers. However, the Governor’s office later clarified that the farmers had been informed beforehand about his plans to travel to Goa to address the budget session of the state assembly. Koshyari holds additional charge as the Governor of neighboring Goa.
Hence, the snub over the use of the plane is seen as the MVA’s attempt at playing tit-for-tat politics.
It must be noted that it is for the first time in recent years that the Maharashtra government and official occupant of the Raj Bhawan on Malabar Hill have clashed so intensely. However, one of Koshyari’s predecessors SM Krishna had restrained the erstwhile Congress-NCP government from spending the entire amount of funds earmarked through supplementary demands by the state legislature. In 2014, then Governor K Shankarnarayanan resigned from his position after being transferred to Mizoram soon after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took charge at the Centre.
The state government’s move to slight Koshyari has prompted some to draw parallels with a similar tussle between then Madhya Pradesh Governor Bhai Mahavir and Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh of the Congress.
So, while the gloves are already off for a no-holds barred fight between the MVA, and a snubbed BJP, which is still smarting after the Shiv Sena walked off to join hands with erstwhile foes Congress and NCP, another battle between the government and the Governor may soon intensify. And the collateral damage in this war may be the confidence of people in our institutions.