All's well that ends well
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is set to become a legislator within the stipulated time and continue to steer the MVA government, but the clearance from Delhi leaders came with a rider that the Raj Bhavan will continue to be a parallel power centre
In giving Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray a new lease of life in the CM's office by way of asking the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold legislative council polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has kept the battle between the state government and governor raging. A timely request made to Prime Minister Narendra Modi has helped the CM survive a chair scare, and his party has profusely thanked the Centre for facilitating the legislative council's biennial elections. However, the Sena and its Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) partners have been forced to accept that the Raj Bhavan holds the ultimate right to reject the Cabinet's recommendation, that the CM be made a legislator under the governor's quota, in the circumstances he (the governor) found fit for refusal. The BJP has also averted a situation wherein it could have been blamed by the people for playing 'brutal' politics by collapsing the government in the time of a grave health crisis.
A game fixed?
The events that finally led to the CM's relief seemed to be orchestrated delicately. Actually, the Sena offered it on a platter to the BJP which created a pressure cooker-like situation, in which the rival teams ended up doing the unexpected. The verdict in this game is varied. For some, the Sena has won. For some, the BJP is the victor because it hurt Sena's pride. But people in the know say the game was fixed at the last moment to appear like a tie, and insist that the next rounds of the game will be rather interesting. The Raj Bhavan should be elated because it was converted into an execution hub with its control strings being manoeuvred in New Delhi, which also honoured Bhagat Singh Koshyari's consistent say. The state BJP leaders who are alleged to be hand-in-glove with the Raj Bhavan may also have a reason to feel somewhat contented because they were able to get even with the Sena, if not successful in completely decimating a friend-turned-foe.
With its West Bengal and Delhi counterparts already in the news, Maharashtra's Raj Bhavan shot into the limelight after a decade, since it installed the BJP's 'sunrise' government late last year. The government fell in three days because the coalition didn't have the numbers, and the Supreme Court acted very swiftly to direct the conduct of proceedings that went against the BJP's plan. And then Uddhav became the first from the Thackeray family, to govern the state directly from the CMO, and his son Aaditya also achieved yet another first for the family, when he got elected as an MLA. A period of six months since then has set many precedents like formation of an axis of three parties that are ideologically so different.
All seats available in the council of ministers were filled, though it perhaps isn't the first in the state's political history, but it surely was an aberration because it hadn't happened in the recent past.
However, most of the precedents were set in the past one month. The CM, unlike some of his predecessors, chose to not contest Council polls that were held after he assumed the office, or asked a party MLA to vacate a seat for him by facilitating a by-election for him. The unexpected novel Coronavirus pandemic compounded the CM's political difficulties when the biennial elections were deferred in the wake of the health scare. If pandemic-related eventualities are considered, then, ifs and buts shouldn't really hold ground to blame the CM for making wrong decisions. Left with no option, the Cabinet twice recommended twice Thackeray for the governor's quota, but the governor refused citing a similar denial in December. So far, a governor's nominee hadn't become a CM. And here, the BJP seemed to have trapped the Sena tiger.
But Thackeray, maybe prompted by his friends in the BJP, relied on an all-effective hotline to PM Modi. Writing on the CM's prospects of making to the legislature in the previous column, I had said that a lot would depend on how much Thackeray has been able to covertly repair the fracture that upset the Sena-BJP applecart six months ago. We will have to see how the BJP-Sena relationship shapes up in the future.
More precedents set
Few other precedents we set after the PM-CM talks. The political veterans haven't recalled any occasion when the Raj Bhavan recommended to the ECI, the holding of Assembly or Council elections. They haven't dug out a trace of political parties asking the governor to make such a recommendation to the ECI. This time, not only the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, but the CM also petitioned the governor in this regard. If that was not enough, the Maharashtra Chief Secretary voluntarily assured the ECI that the state machinery was well-equipped to hold the polls for which the candidates and 288 MLAs should be travelling to Mumbai, to file nominations and vote in the lockdown or lockdown-like situation.
All this happened in just one day. To top it all, the ECI convened an emergency meeting next morning with its chief participating from abroad. Within hours, the elections were scheduled. It is anybody's guess why events took such dramatic turns overnight.
So, can we say all is well that ends well? Well, we may say so when we're fighting a deadly pandemic which has its epicentre in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, which is the country's powerhouse. It seems the political foes who share ideology have put aside the differences in bad times. Henceforth, we would like the CM and PM to talk frequently to ensure public good. Politics can wait.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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