From his statements on Chhatrapati Shivaji and Savitribai Phule to his moves during his protracted face-off with the previous Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has courted controversies several times since his appointment to the Mumbai Raj Bhavan in 2019.
Koshyari is back at the centre of a row and is drawing a severe backlash from various political quarters over his remarks on Friday that Maharashtra, especially Mumbai and Thane, will be left with no money and cease to be a “financial capital” if members of the Gujarati and Rajasthani communities are “removed” from the state.
Shiv Sena president and ex-CM Thackeray slammed the Governor over this row. He also seized on it to recount Koshyari’s “misadventures” while addressing a press conference Saturday. He sought an apology from the Governor over his controversial remarks, saying that the “parcel” deserves to be sent back to Delhi.
Uneasy relationship with MVA
It started with Koshyari officiating the swearing-in ceremony of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Devendra Fadnavis and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar as the CM and the Deputy CM, respectively, in November 2019. That government did not last for more than three days and led to the formation of the Shiv Sena-headed MVA government.
Things turned sour in October 2020, when the Governor wrote a letter to Thackeray about the opening up of places of worship, which were shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a mocking tone, he asked Thackeray if he has turned “secular”, provoking the latter to respond by reminding Koshyari that the word “secular” is in the Constitution he had sworn to protect when he took oath of his office as the Governor.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue, objecting to the language used by the Governor in his letter to the CM.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah subsequently said that the Governor could have avoided using certain words. Pawar responded that “anybody with self-respect will not continue in the post,” alluding to Koshyari.
Tensions escalated further in November that year when the Maharashtra Cabinet recommended 12 names to be nominated as the state Legislative Council members. As per procedure, it was sent to the Governor to sign on the appointments. For one-and-a-half years, despite various reminders by Cabinet ministers and even a Bombay High Court suggestion, Koshyari did not clear a single name.
In February 2021, a row erupted after the MVA government denied Koshyari permission to use a state government aircraft to travel to Mussoorie for a function. Thackeray’s office said that there was no mistake in the episode, stating that the Raj Bhavan secretariat should have verified whether the permission was granted before proceeding to board the flight.
A month later, the Thackeray Cabinet expressed displeasure over the Governor inaugurating two hostels in Nanded and holding “review meetings” with district officials. Subsequently, Koshyari dropped the plan to inaugurate the hostels.
In December 2021, the MVA government passed the Public Universities Act Amendment Bill, which curtailed the powers of the Governor in the appointment of the university Vice-Chancellors in the state. The Governor assumes the role of a Chancellor of various state universities and makes appointments of vice-chancellors based on the recommendations of a committee.
The BJP, as the then principal Opposition, used to consult Koshyari to demand directions to the state government on multiple issues, leading to further deterioration in the MVA-Governor relationship.
In February this year, Koshyari stirred up yet another row and was criticised by several Maratha organisations, when he claimed that saint Samarth Ramdas was Chhatrapati Shivaji’s guru. “Many maharajas and chakravartis (emperors) were born on this land. But, who would have asked about Chandragupta had there not been Chanakya? Who would have asked about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had there not been Samarth (Ramdas),” he said at a function in Aurangabad.
During the state Budget proceedings in March, Koshyari stopped the Governor’s address in less than five minutes on the ground that the BJP members were sloganeering against arrested NCP leader Nawab Malik, and abruptly left the Assembly.
Days later, the Governor made another comment that landed him in trouble. During the inauguration of a statue of Savitribai Phule in Pune, he said, “Savitribai was married off when she was ten years old…and her husband (Jyotiba) was 13 years old. Now imagine, what would the boy and girl have been doing after marriage? What would they have been thinking?”