Ahead of a vote of confidence to prove its majority in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's camp on Sunday passed a major test with the election of BJP legislator Rahul Narvekar as the Speaker through a voice vote and not by secret ballot. Narvekar crossed the halfway mark of 144 in the 288-member assembly as he got 164 votes against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena legislator Rajan Salvi who secured 107 votes. Salvi was supported by NCP, Congress and independents. The Assembly has one vacancy due to the death of Sena's Ramesh Latke. Therefore, of the 287 MLAs, 271 voted.
After the voting, Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal said that Shiv Sena MLAs from the Shinde camp had voted against the whip. All the procedure has been video recorded. The names of those who voted against the party whip should be written down. Thereafter, Narvekar also said that 16 MLAs from the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena had voters against the whip.
A total of three MLAs - Samajwadi Party's Abu Azmi and Raees Shaikh, and AIMIM's Shah Farukh Anwar abstained from voting. However, in all 12 legislators comprising 7 MLAs of NCP, BJP and Congress two each and MIM 1.
Of the 12 MLAs who were absent, two of them - Laxman Jagtap and Mukta Tilak (of the BJP)- are suffering from serious ailments. Two NCP legislators - Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik- are in jail in connection with different money laundering cases.
Five other NCP MLAs - Dattatray Bharane, Dilip Mohite, Anna Bansode, Nilesh Lanke and Babandada Shinde - did not show up. Bharane did not attend the Speaker's election because of his mother's death a few days back, an NCP leader said.
Two Congress MLAs - Praniti Shinde and Jitesh Antapurkar - also did not attend the session. Antapurkar is getting married on Sunday. Praniti Shinde is out of the country, a Congress functionary said. AIMIM MLA Mufti Mohammad Ismail also did not attend the session.
Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal, who is an NCP legislator, did not cast his vote as he was in the chair while Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke died recently.
The post of the Speaker was vacant since February last year after Nana Patole of Congress quit. The Deputy Speaker, Narhari Zirwal, was acting as the Speaker.
The election for the post of Assembly Speaker was crucial in view of the recent turn of events in the state, especially after Shinde led a rebellion and the formation of a new government by Shinde Camp along with BJP supported by independents and smaller parties. With the Speaker's election, the Shinde-Fadnavis government could formally claim the support of 164 legislators comprising BJP 106, Shinde camp 39, independents and smaller parties including MNS 19.
Legal experts say that the new Speaker may dismiss the disqualification proceedings against 16 Shiv Sena MLAs from the Shinde camp, including the newly sworn-in Chief Minister himself. The disqualification notices were issued to them by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal last month.
Senior Congress leader and former revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat, in a statement on the floor of the House while congratulating Narvekar, said, "The Speaker's election took place in a transparent way. This is what we had been demanding with the governor for quite some time. It seems the governor was sleeping for one-and-a-half years.
Earlier this year, leaders of the then ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA-comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress) had urged Koshyari to approve the schedule for the Assembly Speaker's election during the budget session (in March).
Prior to it, in a previous legislature session, the then MVA government had amended the existing rules to facilitate the Speaker's election through a voice vote. The governor had described the decision as unconstitutional and sought legal opinion.
Who is Rahul Narvekar?
Maharashtra has set twin records. The father-in-law Ramraje Nimbalkar is the chairperson of the Maharashtra Legislative Council while the son-in-law Rahul Narvekar was elected today as the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. Further, Narvekar is the youngest Speaker in the country.
Newly elected Speaker Rahul Narvekar is a close confidant of BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He was elected to the state assembly from Colaba seat in 2019 on the BJP ticket. Incidentally, he was born and raised in Colaba in south Mumbai. Before that he was associated with the Shiv Sena and later with NCP. He was a member of the state council and had contested the Lok Sabha from Maval seat on NCP in 2014 but during the Modi wave lost to Shiv Sena nominee Shrirang Barne.
Narvekar began his political career as the spokesperson of the Youth Wing of Shiv Sena in his early years and had proximity with the Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray. However, he left Shiv Sena and joined NCP in 2014.
Narvekar is a lawyer and well versed with legal and legislative matters.