Almost six months after he became Chief Minister on November 28, Uddhav Thackeray has finally become a Member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council. This ensures that his chief ministerial post remains intact. He was elected unopposed to the Council on Thursday (May 14) as only nine nominations were received for the nine vacant seats of the Council.
Already under pressure due to surging Covid-19 cases and deaths in Maharashtra, the unopposed election would have come as welcome relief to Thackeray.
The government of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition, comprising his Shiv Sena, NCP, and Congress, has survived a potential political crisis.
Even though he was ultimately elected unopposed, Thackeray had faced some tense moments in his efforts to enter the legislature, and he had at one point even offered to resign as Chief Minister. The state had seemed faced with a constitutional crisis.
Thackeray’s chief ministership had come at the cost of the Sena’s longtime alliance with the BJP. The bitter parting had followed after the BJP insisted on the CM’s post, and Thackeray was ultimately pushed to embrace unlikely allies NCP and Congress.
Under Article 164(4) of the Constitution, “a Minister who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of the Legislature of the State shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a Minister”.
However, the Legislative Council elections for the nine vacant seats which were slated for March 26, were postponed due to the pandemic.
So, on April 9, the state Cabinet led by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar recommended to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari that Uddhav should be nominated to the Upper House. The Governor, however, chose to ignore the recommendation.
“The Governor is supposed to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The decision of the Cabinet is binding on him,” constitutional expert Ulhas Bapat said.
With Koshyari unrelenting, the government repeated its recommendation on April 27.
“We have ensured that we have met all rules and regulations required for nomination of the Chief Minister by the Governor to the State Legislative council,” Deputy Chief Minister Pawar said. The Maha Vikas Aghadi reiterated that Thackeray’s nomination to the Upper House by the Governor was well within the framework of the Constitution.
But the Governor declined to react. State BJP leaders, meanwhile, increased their visits to Raj Bhavan, and the Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamna’ condemned in strong language the attempts by “some people” to foist a constitutional crisis on the state.
Thackeray finally chose to escalate the matter to Narendra Modi. On April 29, he called up the Prime Minister and asked him to step in.
“Uddhav Thackeray urged the Prime Minister to intervene… Thackeray said he was ready to resign if the situation persisted. The Prime Minister said, ‘main dekhta hun…,” Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut told this newspaper.
Other Sena leaders said Thackeray had told the Prime Minister that attempts were being made to create political instability in Maharashtra at a time when the state was fighting the pandemic with its back to the wall.
Soon after the phone call to Modi, Governor Koshyari wrote to the Election Commission asking for elections to be held to the nine Council seats “at the earliest”.
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The Maha Vikas Aghadi had six candidates for the nine seats, including two from the Congress, and the BJP had four – and the extra candidate meant voting had to be conducted.
To avoid a vote in the middle of the Covid crisis, an emergency meeting was held among the top leaders of the Congress, NCP, and Sena. The Congress withdrew one of its candidates, and the way was finally cleared for Uddhav Thackeray’s entry into the Council.