To keep his job, Uddhav Thackeray, the 59-year-old Chief Minister of Maharashtra, is now dependent on the Governor of the state, Bhagat Singh Koshyari. So far, the Governor has ignored two recommendations from the cabinet of Maharashtra that would give him Mr Thackeray the basic qualification he’s currently missing – being a member of the Maharashtra assembly.
When elections for Maharashtra were held in October last year, Mr Thackeray did not contest them. His party won the second-most seats in the state and then broke a three-decade-old partnership with the BJP, pairing instead with the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s party to form the state government.
Any minister has to become a member of the legislature within six months of getting the position. Mr Thackeray’s six-month grace period ends in exactly a month – on May 28. The ruling coalition had planned that he would join the upper house of the legislature – what’s called the legislative council – through elections to be held in April. Except the strict lockdown brought on by the coronavirus outbreak postponed the elections indefinitely.
So Mr Thackeray’s only route into the assembly is to be named to the legislative council by the Governor who has the right to nominate 12 people to this body. There are two vacancies currently; the cabinet says that a non-partisan Governor focused on enabling good governance would pick Mr Thackeray for one of them.
“Elections come and go. Sometimes people come into power and sometimes they go out of power. Power comes and goes but if we lose lives, that will never come back. We should not do politics over this,” the Chief Minister said in an address to the Maharashtra assembly on Sunday. He wasn’t talking about the lush controversy over his election -but his remarks were interpreted as an allusion.
Before Mr Thackeray came to power, the Governor approved the early dawn swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP for a second term as Chief Minister. Mr Fadnavis had teamed with a section of Mr Pawar’s party; that pairing was undone rapidly – in 72 hours, in fact, by Mr Pawar. And the three-party alliance led by Mr Thackeray took charge of the state.
This evening, Mr Thackeray encountered the Governor at a government event; the BJP also sent a delegation led by Mr Fadnavis to meet him. The BJP claims its meeting was on the issue of press freedom, a proclamation that may have few takers given the political climate. There are reports that the government will send its own team to the Governor later today to push Mr Thackeray’s cause.
“We have requested the Hon’ble Governor once again that the decision taken by the cabinet on 9th April after a meeting which was chaired by me was to nominate the current Chief Minister Shri Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray to one of the vacant seats in the Maharashtra legislative council. 18 days have passed but the Governor has taken no action on this recommendation,” said Ajit Pawar, who serves as Deputy Chief Minister, yesterday.
Legal experts are divided on whether the Governor is bound to accept the cabinet’s advice on this matter. If he does not name Mr Thackeray, the Chief Minister will have to resign. At a time when Maharashtra is confronting the maximum coronavirus cases in the country, a change in leadership could be a huge disservice to the state, say his supporters. His critics, on the other hand, say that by suggesting Mr Thackeray be nominated by the Governor to the council on the basis of his skills as a photographer – think of it as the equivalent of Rajya Sabha members who are nominated for their contribution to the Arts or Sports – the government is on politically fragile turf.
KV Viswanathan, former Additional Solicitor General told NDTV, “Under the constitutional scheme, nomination of members to the legislature, is a matter which does not fall within the discretionary powers of the Governor. The Governor is bound to act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers. If he feels there is any disqualification, like a conviction in a criminal case, he can bring it to the notice of the government. That is all. This is a function where he has to act on aid and advise.”
Election Commission sources have told NDTV, that no view has been taken yet and any decision on elections depends on the evolving situation that forced the deferment of the election earlier scheduled.