Congress asks for more, chief minister says, 'forget it'
Uddhav Thackeray gets BJP to remove hurdles in his becoming an MLC, but before making it to the upper house unopposed, he shuts down state Congress leaders' demand for a better deal
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's discomfort didn't seem to have ended till Sunday evening. When he was poised to have a smooth sailing in the legislative council elections, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) created a further roadblock-like situation for the head of the state. The polling on May 21 would be inevitable for nine seats unless the Congress withdraws one candidate from the fray. There were reports that the chief minister (CM) ruthlessly threatened that he would not contest if the Congress did not step back. The trick worked. State Congress president, Balasaheb Thorat, who unilaterally announced the second candidate on Saturday night, declared 24 hours later that the CM's 'request for unopposed contest' would be honoured.
The election would make Thackeray a legislator before May 27 to have an uninterrupted run in the Chief Minister's Office (CMO). A constitutional crisis arising out of the CM's inability to remain in office could have gone against the MVA. It is no longer a secret that the programme for May 21 election has come as a political deal between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP opposed the CM's nomination in the governor's quota and created a situation wherein Thackeray had to seek the BJP leadership's help.
The Election Commission of India scrapped its previous order of deferring the election in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and scheduled the programme in Maharashtra just to facilitate Thackeray's way to the legislative council. Traditionally in Maharashtra, the upper house election which the CM participates in, isn't made complicated. It has been ensured in the past that the CM got elected unopposed, among others, because such gestures display democratic maturity and also prevents election malpractices like horse-trading.
But things changed on Saturday when, as expected, the BJP fielded four candidates and the Sena and NCP decided to contest two seats each, leaving the Congress with just one. Retaliatory state Congress leaders declared one extra candidate after Rajesh Rathod alone was cleared from New Delhi. Rajkishore alias Papa Modi emerged as Thorat's bet which fell apart within 24 hours of declaration. The MVA has 170 MLAs as per the trust-vote count, with the Congress having a least number of legislators among three big partners. The Sena and NCP are almost same in terms of strength of MLAs and independents. The BJP has 105 MLAs and claims to have at least 10 independents staking claim on four seats. But Thorat said the MVA partners shouldn't think of individual benefit and cobble up numbers to win at least six seats and beat BJP's one candidate. But this won't happen as the MVA has agreed to field five candidates, with Congress getting just one.
The state Congress leaders have a feeling of getting a raw deal in the MVA. They didn't get DCM's post and lucrative departments. They blame the NCP more than the Sena for fooling them into submission every time they demand something more. Thorat seemed to be attempting a pressure tactic to get more in the bargain, maybe an extra seat in the governor's quota next month in exchange of withdrawing the party candidate this time.
The CM reacted to the Congress's demand but very unexpectedly. A nonchalant NCP had announced its two candidates without paying attention to the Congress's concerns and suggestions that some disgruntled BJP legislators could be persuaded to vote for the MVA (in particular Papa Modi). The assertion of converting the BJP votes was based on an assumption that some sections of the party would cross-vote because their leaders have been denied tickets in the May 21 polls. But for that to happen, the voting must be held because it alone would guarantee secrecy to the cross-voters.
In asking the state Congress to stop troubling him, Thackeray used one potent option in threatening the ally that he wouldn't contest if ways were not mended. It was also clear that the state Congress didn't have Delhi's mandate for fielding the second nominee. Why did the state Congress leaders attempt it then? It has emerged that since state unit's recommendations were rejected for the name suggested by a certain young MP, who is seen as a threat to the veterans in Maharashtra, the overnight drama was built with an aim of restoring some nuisance value and clinching better deals, if not now but later. And of course, the drama also ensured the mild-types in the Congress much-needed traction.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to email@example.com
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