With the Election Commission of India declaring the dates for elections for 9 vacant seats for the Legislative council, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has managed to survive a major constitutional crisis hovering over his head. Now the elections will be conducted and will have a decisive end to this political circus. However, it becomes imperative to introspect, analyse the politics and the prudency of this drama especially when the state is fighting the battle with COVID-19.
Article 164 of the Constitution says that a minister and so a chief minister shall cease to be one if she/he is not elected as a legislator within six months from the date of appointment to the post. Since the first week of April, the politics in Maharashtra has become volatile, as CM Uddhav Thackeray was near to complete this constitutional breathing period six months.
The elections to 9 seats of Legislative council were due on April 24, but were postponed due to the pandemic crisis. Soon after this declaration, on April 9, Maharashtra Cabinet passed a resolution to nominate Uddhav Thackeray to legislative council from Governor’s Quota, as 2 seats of this quota were vacant. After the cabinet meeting, visits of the BJP leaders to the Raj Bhavan increased. These visits raised speculations of BJP’s strategy to create political turmoil in Maharashtra. In addition to the visits, the IT cells also targeted Uddhav Thackeray by demanding his resignation after the Bandra, Palghar incidents and a 12-hour inquiry by Mumbai Police against news editor Arnab Goswami. Hashtags like #UddhavThackerayResign, #WorstCMEver, #MahaEmergency were trending on Twitter.
All these events are nothing but a continuation to the chapter of political turmoil created by BJP in Madhya Pradesh earlier in March thus, all these steps demonstrated desperation of the BJP state unit and its ‘maneuvers’ to dethrone the Thackeray Government. Political crisis in Madhya Pradesh was blamed for the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases and a new hotspot in Indore. These events in Maharashtra, instead of benefitting BJP, has exhibited its political immaturity and lack of sensitivity towards the people who were both in deep trouble and panic. In a letter to the Governor on 28th April, Former CM and LoP Devendra Fadnavis also mentioned about an emergency like situation in the state. All these activities have hit the BJP state unit’s image at large and labelled their state leadership as someone lack ability to understand the state’s priorities and his responsibility as a face of opposition in the state amidst this pandemic.
The Pawar Factor
Sharad Pawar, a seasoned politician and a statesman, took advantage of the BJP’s aggressive approach and devised a strategy. The sources suggest that Pawar already knew that the Governor would not nominate Uddhav Thackeray to the upper house as the Representation of the People Act, 1951, lays down that the election or nomination to a post cannot be done if the remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is less than one year.
The terms of the two vacant seats in the council ends on June 6, which may have led the governor refusing to act on the cabinet’s recommendation, he pointed out. Hence a strategy was devised to set up the narrative against the state BJP unit and create an ‘All is Well in MVA’ perception. This was probably to distract the lack of consensus in decision making and the lack of co-ordination among the allies. If true, this has further showcases the strength of Pawar and his skills to take control of things when odds are at high. The Aghadi now is being perceived to be strong and united among the people of the state.
CM’s call to PM Modi
After the MVA delegation met Governor BS Koshiyari for the second time and requested to nominate CM Uddhav Thackeray as an MLC from Governor’s quota, Governor in reply asked the delegation to request the ECI to conduct elections. It is also being said that Governor has hinted at discussing the issue with the Centre. After delegates met Governor, CM Uddhav Thackeray called PM Modi and complained him about an attempt by the opposition to destabilize the Government in Maharashtra, CM also mentioned about the efforts and co-operation the state government has done with the Union government in the lockdown period. Within 24 hours of this call, Governor requested the ECI to conduct elections as early as possible. Acting on Governor’s request, ECI called for an urgent meeting and later declared the dates for the elections. Sources also suggest that Union Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari played a vital role in pacing up things at Delhi and CM’s mention of Nitin Gadkari in his public address also hints about something being hatched.
Why Did Modi Came to the Rescue?
By the time PM intervened in the matter, the BJP state unit’s image had already taken a hit in the public. The events also burnt the bridges between the Shiv Sena and BJP who were former allies. Hence, it was important to save the BJP’s image from being deteriorated and rise above the petty politics and secure cordial relation with the former ally. This timely intervention of Modi has also helped him earn an image of Statesman across the nation and also in one of the most important states both politically and economically. Apart from this another important reason is PM Modi’s exemplary relationship with Pawar. The sources also say that a lot of political capital was exchanged between PM Modi and CM Thackeray during the call, although all of it remains to be a secret. The interesting part of all these exchange between PM Modi and CM Thackeray is that the state leadership of BJP was aloof from all of it.
The author is a former employee of I-Pac and a political analyst. Views expressed are personal