Bhagat Singh Koshyari took over as the Governor of Maharashtra in September 2019, two months before the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi assumed power in the state.
The 31-month period since has been marked with constant friction and antagonism between the two sides. Koshyari’s order asking Uddhav to prove his majority on the floor of the House on Thursday, ending days of uncertainty following the revolt raised by Eknath Shinde and 40-odd MLAs against the Shiv Sena chief, marks a culmination of that.
The government and the Governor first squared off soon after the 2019 Assembly results, which threw up a hung House. Koshyari swore in the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar as his Deputy in the early hours at a closely guarded ceremony in Raj Bhavan, 24 hours after Shiv Sena chief Uddhav was declared the CM-designate of the Congress-NCP-Sena’s MVA formation.
The Sena approached the Supreme Court to quash the “arbitrary and mala fide actions /decisions” of Koshyari. Finally, after Ajit Pawar returned to the NCP fold, Uddhav took over as head of the MVA government.
The next big clash between the MVA government and Koshyari came in October 2020, when he wrote a letter to Uddhav over “delay in reopening of places of worship”, which had been shut due to the coronavirus pandemic. Had the Sena chief turned “secular”, Koshyari demanded to know.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, objecting to the language used by Koshyari in his exchange with the CM. When Union Home Minister Amit Shah later acknowledged that the Governor could have avoided certain words, Pawar said anybody with any self-respect would not continue in the “post”, alluding to governorship.
In February 2021, another row erupted after the MVA government denied permission to Koshyari to use a state government aircraft for his travel to Mussoorie for a function. The CM’s office stood by the move, saying the Raj Bhavan Secretariat should have verified whether this was allowed before making the plans.
Last August, the state 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.
There were differences between Uddhav and Koshyari over the nomination of the CM as a Member of the Legislative Council as well. The Sena chief finally sought PM Modi’s intervention to allow himself to get elected to the House and avoid a constitutional crisis.
Still, Uddhav was lucky. Koshyari is yet to approve 12 names recommended by the government in November 2020 to be appointed to the Legislative Council through the Governor’s quota.
The MVA government hit back by passing a Bill curtailing the powers of the Governor in the appointment of vice-chancellors in the state. The governor is the chancellor of the universities in a state and appoints vice-chancellors based on the recommendations of a committee.
The constant face-off between the MVA government and Governor has also resulted in the Maharashtra Assembly Speaker’s post being vacant now for more than a year, since Nana Patole resigned in February 2021 to take over as the state Congress president. The election is stalled as the Governor refused to approve the MVA government’s plan for a voice vote instead of a secret ballot. In the current crisis, one of the points raised by the Sena rebels is that Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal, of the NCP, does not have the authority to decide on their disqualification, as sought by the Uddhav-led Sena.
Before he took over as Maharashtra Governor, Koshyari, a former chief minister of Uttarakhand, was one of the party’s prominent leaders of the state, and considered one of several hopefuls seeking a return to the top job in Dehradun.
An old RSS hand, Koshyari joined politics during his student days, became an MLC in 1997 in Uttar Pradesh, when Uttarakhand was still a part of it, and later after the bifurcation, served as a minister in the new state. Within a year of Uttarakhand’s formation, he replaced Nityanand Swami as CM, and his Cabinet included Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, the current HRD Minister.
That tenure had proved short-lived with the BJP voted out in 2002. He was the Leader of Opposition in the state for the next five years, after which he moved on to Central politics as first an MP in the Rajya Sabha and then Lower House.