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Maharashtra May See Round 2 of Thackeray vs Raj Bhavan, Governor’s Quota at the Heart of it Again

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray greets Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari during a meeting at the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai on May 1, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray greets Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari during a meeting at the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai on May 1, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Amid the latest faceoff over Governor's quota, Shiv Sena ministers charge that Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari is gradually emerging as a parallel power centre.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra may have staved off a constitutional crisis by ensuring Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s nomination to the state legislative council. But, appointments to the state legislative council from the Governor’s quota may turn out to be yet another flashpoint between the MVA government and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari.

The term of 10 legislators nominated to the upper house from the Governor’s quota expires this month. Congress’ Janardhan Chandurkar, Husnabanu Khalife, Ramhari Rupanvar and Anandrao Patil, and NCP’s Vidya Chavan, Prakash Gajbhiye, Khwaja Beg and Jagannath Shinde retired on June 6, while Anant Gadgil from the Congress and Peoples’ Republican Party’s Jogendra Kawade will retire on June 14.

NCP’s Rahul Narvekar and Ramrao Wadkhute have quit to join the BJP, and Narvekar is now MLA from Colaba in Mumbai.

A senior NCP minister said the three allies would divide the 12 seats equally among themselves. The Shiv Sena initially wanted to corner five seats, leaving four and three each for the NCP and Congress, respectively. But, the Congress may get an extra seat from the Shiv Sena quota as it had to withdraw its second nominee to ensure that the legislative council polls took place unopposed.

The government is likely to make a formal recommendation about these nominees to the Governor soon.

However, leaders from the ruling coalition doubt if the eventual nominations will take place smoothly. The ties between the MVA and the Governor had hit an air-pocket over the cabinet’s recommendation that Uddhav Thackeray be nominated to the upper house from the Governor’s quota to prevent a crisis for the government.

Uddhav Thackeray, who became the first from the Thackeray clan to hold a constitutional position when he was sworn in as the chief minister of Maharashtra on November 28, was not a member of the legislature. Hence, he had to be elected to either House by May 27, failing which he would be compelled to resign. By implication, this would have led to the entire council of ministers stepping down.

Though Thackeray was expected to contest the elections for one of the nine seats which were due in April, the coronavirus epidemic led to the polls being postponed. With a crisis looming large, the state cabinet had on April 9 recommended that Thackeray be nominated to the 78-member upper house from one of the two vacant seats in the Governor’s quota. After Koshyari did not act on this, the recommendation was repeated by the cabinet, but in vain.

However, after much back and forth, the Election Commission finally declared that the polls would be held on May 21. The elections took place unopposed, but not before the Congress gave the MVA tense moments with its short-lived decision to field a second candidate, which would have required a contest.

Article 171 (5) of the Constitution 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, cooperative movement and social service.

However, though poets and writers like Ga.Di.Madgulkar, Shantaram Nandgaonkar, Na.Do Mahanor and Ramdas Phutane, and journalists like MG Vaidya have been members of the state legislative council through this quota, it is usually used for accommodating political nominees.

A Congress leader admitted that considering the friction between the government and the MVA, some tensions were also likely over the names to be nominated for these positions.

Shiv Sena ministers charge in private that the Governor is gradually emerging as a parallel power centre. As the occupant of the verdant, colonial era Raj Bhawan located on a 50-acre estate at Malabar Hill, Koshyari, a veteran RSS hand and former CM of Uttarakhand, is asserting himself as the constitutional head of state.

The Shiv Sena is upset over Koshyari’s 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 the experiment was short-lived and Pawar returned to the NCP like a prodigal son to become the deputy CM in the Uddhav Thackeray-led government, some bitterness still lingers.

The latest confrontation between the government and the Governor has been over holding final year university examinations. The Governor, who is the ex-officio chancellor of universities, has come out against the State’s move to cancel final year exams in light of the Covid-19 epidemic and grant aggregate marks based on performance in previous semesters.

So, as the MVA leaders put their heads together to shortlist nominees for the Governor’s quota, the prospect of yet another standoff hangs in the air, much like Mumbai’s ubiquitous humidity.

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

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