Has there been a Governor as ‘audacious’ as BS Koshyari in Maharashtra?
Koshyari violated every law, tried to scuttle Uddhav Thackeray’s election to Legislative Council, stalled Assembly Speaker’s election and made obscene comments on Savitribai Phule
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has in the past three years violated every law in the book required by his Constitutional office.
‘Audacious’ in the headline is, of course, a euphemism. You may fill in an appropriate word of your choice by the end of this piece.
Now, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, for the first time, has voiced his annoyance at the manner in which the Governor at every step of the way had been making life difficult for the Maha Vikas Aghadi government at the behest of BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, the then opposition leader.
It is not as though Pawar has never had a run-in before with a rather thinking Governor. When former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna had been appointed Governor of Maharashtra during the UPA years, the Congress was leading the government in the state in alliance with the NCP.
Pawar then discovered Krishna was unwilling to sign on the dotted line of every proposal sent forward by the departments held by NCP ministers, particularly those related to the management of water resources which was very important to the NCP because of its agricultural moorings.
Then Pawar had reprimanded Krishna in annoyance. “A Governor wears the mangalsutra of whichever government is in power. He cannot question the decision of the person who runs the house.” Krishna had laughed that off and Pawar had to retreat in face of much criticism that he was arm-twisting the Governor and using intemperate language.
But Krishna had not been violating any constitutional norms, merely having financial liabilities legally examined. Not so BS Koshyari. He violated every law, tried to stall the election of Uddhav Thackeray to the Maharashtra Legislative Council – until Narendra Modi intervened and made it possible -- he made unwarranted comments on the Shiv Sena, even obscene ones about the marital life of India's first woman teacher Savitribai Phule who was married at 10 to social reformist Jyotiba Phule.
Now he had the temerity to feed laddoos to Fadnavis when he was sworn in as deputy chief minister. Pawar has been in electoral politics for 55 straight years and has seen many oath taking ceremonies at the Raj Bhavan in that time. “In all that time, not one Governor, whether appointed by the ruling party or not, has kept his distance from the government and never stuffed a peda into anyone's mouth as this Governor did with the laddoos.”
But what Pawar is angrier about is how the Governor stalled for two and a half years the MVA government’s recommendations for 12 nominations to the Legislative Council. These nominations were meant to give representation in the Council to members of civil society - artistes, painters, social workers, writers, etc.
At first Uddhav Thackeray had been seeking a nomination in this category as he is both a photographer and a social worker – the Shiv Sena runs a popular ambulance service and old people's homes across Maharashtra.
He was sworn in as chief minister in November 2019 and constitutionally was required to have himself elected to either house of the legislature within six months of that. When the Governor kept the issue pending till May 2020, in the middle of the first lockdown, Uddhav appealed to Modi.
The election commission then put into process elections to the council through the local self-government constituencies and Uddhav was elected to the House unopposed. But the Governor still kept the nomination list pending.
Now Pawar is mad as a hatter that he is preparing to lift the stay, which means the MVA list of worthy nominees will be ignored in favour of the Shinde government's list.
Even with regard to the election of the Speaker, the Governor stalled the process after the resignation of Nana Patole of the Congress on the grounds that the matter was sub-judice. But who went to court? Girish Mahajan, a former minister in the Fadnavis cabinet, and the Supreme Court took its time about the hearing.
It had still hot given its ruling when the Governor allowed the election of a Speaker after the Shinde government was sworn in.
The lack of a level playing field has made Pawar sore and now he is also raising questions on the Governor’s discretion in allowing Eknath Shinde to take an oath in the name of Bal Thackeray and Anand Dighe, the new chief minister's late mentor.
Constitutionally you can only take oath in the name of the Constitution or in the name of whichever God you believe in. There are now sotto voce suggestions coming in from some quarters that Shinde's ascent to the chief minister’s office could be legally challenged for who were Bal Thackeray and Anand Dighe, after all?
Dighe was a jailed goon and murderer having chopped up a Shiv Sena corporator into bits and buried the parts beside a railway track for voting against the party whip in the Thane municipal corporation election – the very thing that the Shiv Sena rebels have done during the Speaker's election today.
Thackeray ran a militia of lumpens throughout his life, although he did make use of the democratic process to fight elections to the municipal corporation and legislative assembly with limited success.
It was only after Uddhav took over the party that it became mainstream, attracting support of those who were bitterly against it earlier.
Pawar has now pointed out that when an NCP minister had initially taken oath in the name of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, this very Governor, BS Koshyari, had compelled him to retake the oath in the name of the Constitution or God and reprimanded the man for introducing an extra-constitutional element into the process.
Pawar is now questioning on what grounds Koshyari has allowed the oath in the name of Bal Thackeray and Anand Dighe. But obviously with this Governor what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. Koshyari is clearly irrevocably married to his party and that mangalsutra belongs not to any government but the BJP?
(Sujata Anandan is Consulting Editor, National Herald Mumbai. Views are personal)