Maharashtra, which is struggling to stymie the onslaught of Covid-19, is also staring at a political crisis. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, sworn in on November 28 despite not being a member of the state legislature, must become one before May 28 lest his government come crashing down, paving the way for President’s rule.
Mr Thackeray owes his precarious position to two factors: the vicious coronavirus pandemic, which nobody had foreseen, and governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s indecision regarding a recommendation sent by the state Cabinet to nominate Mr Thackeray as a member of the legislative council from the governor’s quota. Mr Koshyari’s inaction on the Cabinet’s recommendation only helps the Bharatiya Janata Party, which suggests that the governor is not acting as a non-partisan.
Article 164(4) of the Constitution states that a minister, who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of the legislature, shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a minister. In Mr Thackeray’s case, the period ends on May 28. Earlier, he was planning to get elected to one of the nine legislative council seats, falling vacant on April 24. However, that is not possible now, as the Election Commission of India has suspended all elections due to the pandemic.
As per convention, the Maharashtra governor nominates 12 members to the legislative council based on the recommendation of the state council of ministers. Former governor K. Sankaranarayanan had appointed 12 members in June 2014, as recommended by the then Congress-NCP government.
However, two of those members resigned from the council before the 2019 elections and joined the BJP. Now, the present state Cabinet has recommended that Mr Thackeray be nominated to one of these vacant seats.
The governor may reject the Cabinet decision citing Section 151 A of the Representation of People Act, 1951, which states that there is no need to hold a by-election for a seat for which the remainder of tenure is less than one year. However, Mr Thackeray’s is an extraordinary case as elections have been suspended in the country. Even if Mr Koshyari accepts the Cabinet’s recommendation, Mr Thackeray would remain a legislator for just over a month and will have to again be elected to the state legislature. But that problem can be addressed when it arises. Right now, Mr Koshyari must help resolve the looming uncertainty in the state.
As per the Article 74 of the Constitution, if the Union Cabinet sends a recommendation to the President and he does not agree with it, he can send it back once to the Cabinet to reconsider its decision. But if the Cabinet sends the same recommendation to the President after reconsideration, the President has to accept it. The same law should be applied to the relationship between the governor and state government. Even assuming nominating members to the legislative council from the governor’s quota is his discretionary power, that power must be used in the larger interest of the people.
Maharashtra is facing its biggest challenge in fighting the coronavirus. The state has reported the highest number of cases and deaths. In such a situation, political instability is the last thing the state needs. Mr Koshyari must uphold his constitutional responsibility to facilitate the government elected by the people and not destabilise it using his discretionary powers....