Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Thursday requested the Election Commission of India to declare elections to the nine vacant seats of the Maharashtra Legislative Council “at the earliest”.
As Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is not a member of either house of the State Legislature, he needs to be elected to the the Council before May 27, 2020. The nine seats in the legislative council, which have been lying vacant from April 24, will end the current uncertainty in the state.
In his letter, the Governor stated that the Centre had announced many relaxation measures regarding the enforcement of lockdown in the country. “As such, the elections to the council seats can be held with certain guidelines,” he said. The Election Commission had withheld the election process for these 9 seats following the Covid-19 crisis.
Here’s a look at the constitutional crisis that Maharashtra is facing, its reason and impact:
What is the crisis?
Even as the Election Commission has already postponed Rajya Sabha polls, bye-elections and civic body elections in the wake of the pandemic, Thackeray, who sworn in as CM on November 28 last year, will have to get elected to either of the houses of the state legislature before May 24, as Article 164(4) of the Constitution stipulates. BJP leaders, however, have pointed out that the approval had legal barriers, as it would be violating the provisions in The Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Is there a legal barrier to Thackeray’s nomination?
The Maharashtra cabinet recommended Thackeray’s name to Koshiyari for one of the vacant posts in the Upper House after the EC deferred elections indefinitely. According to Section 151A of Representation of the People Act 1951, election or nomination to the post cannot be done if — (a) the remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is less than one year; or (b) the Election Commission in consultation with the Central Government certifies that it is difficult to hold the bye-election within the said period. The terms of the two vacancies in the Legislative Council end on June 6.
Uddhav has to get elected to the state legislature by the deadline in order to prevent a political crisis for the Mahavikas Aghadi government, as the Constitution demands that the Chief Minister would have to step down in such an eventuality and the Cabinet has to resign too.
Uddhav dials PM Modi for help
Uddhav, who is caught in a constitutional entanglement over his membership in the state legislature, has approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi for cooperation in resolving the crisis, sources said. “He (Thackeray) called Prime Minister to talk about his nomination. He asked for help saying if it does not happen he would have to resign,” said a source. The source added that the Prime Minister said he would look into the matter and get more details.
What made Uddhav call PM
On Monday, the Maharashtra Cabinet reiterated the recommendation it had first made on April 9 after a meeting presided over by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. On Tuesday evening, a delegation of the Cabinet met Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, and urged him to nominate Thackeray to one of the two vacant seats in the Council through the Governor’s quota.
Sources said the Governor was “non-committal” during his meeting with the leaders of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi. This, the sources said, may have “forced” Thackeray to speak to the Prime Minister.
What are the three options before Uddhav?
A senior leader of the ruling coalition has said that Thackeray had on Monday night discussed with NCP leader Sharad Pawar three options going forward.
“The first is to write to the Election Commission requesting that the Legislative Council polls which were deferred by it earlier this month due to the lockdown, should be held. Since the election will be unopposed, we also want the EC to reduce the required 21 days’ period for holding the poll. The second option is to approach the Supreme Court to ask it to direct the EC to hold polls,” the leader said.
The third and last option would be for Thackeray to resign as Chief Minister, then call a legislative party meeting of all three coalition partners to elect him as leader, and form the government once again, the leader said.
“But”, the leader said, “we don’t think it will come to that. We are hopeful that the Governor will soon nominate Thackeray to the Council.”
Can courts interfere with Governor’s decision here
While it could be argued that the Governor’s nomination is reserved for “persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as the following, namely: Literature, science, art, co-operative movement and social service” under the Constitution, courts cannot interfere with the Governor’s decision even when a political appointment is made.
Sena tries to make the issue political, BJP in no mood to cooperate
While the ruling Shiv Sena, the BJP’s estranged ally, tried to make it a political issue by accusing Koshyari of not approving the cabinet’s recommendation to nominate Thackeray as MLC from the Governor’s quota, the BJP’s local leadership is no mood to cooperate with the ruling coalition.
The BJP said, “Not only did the Shiv Sena and its leadership betray the BJP, it has been hostile to the party leaders since it came into power. Even during the COVID crisis, the government has not cooperated either with the local unit or with the Centre. They even refused to distribute the foodgrains the Centre has provided.” “Why should BJP help Uddhav Thackeray? His party had earlier been asking us when would our MLA become the Chief Minister, now they want us to tell them when will their CM become an MLA?” asked a leader from the state.
Fadnavis says ‘not interested’ in making backdoor entry
“We are confident that the Governor will take an appropriate decision, conforming to legal and constitutional framework, and accordingly nominate Uddhav Thackeray to the Council,” Fadnavis said. “I would like to emphasize that BJP would be very happy to see Uddhav Thackeray being nominated to the Council and continuing as the CM. The BJP does not want instability in the state.” Refuting charges that the Opposition was behind stalling Uddhav’s nomination, Fadnavis said, “We are neither interested in engineering instability nor making a backdoor entry.”