Grow up, Uddhav Ji. Act like a man. Don’t betray to the world at large that you love your chair more than the people of Maharashtra.
There was the recent news that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, which is facing the worst situation on account of the pandemic of Covid-19 himself is facing an unenviable position relating to his continuation as Chief Minister. The constitutional provision in this context as laid down in Clause (4) under Article 164 is recalled below:
“A Minister who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of the State Legislature of the state shall on the expiration of the period cease to be a Minister.”
The piquant situation arose because the present Chief Minister was appointed as a result of a cobbled up arrangement due to a fractured mandate. This is not a value pregnant judgment on his appointment but only an attempt to state the facts without going into circumstances. Having said that he had not contested the elections but the arrangement reached to form the government caused upon him to take the mantle of Chief Ministership. The position at the extant time of taking over as Chief Minister, he had foreseen he would get elected to one of the houses of legislature of Maharashtra. However, in the aftermath of his taking over as Maharashtra CM, an unforeseen event took over, a pandemic stuck resulting in lockdown and social distancing and other mitigating state measures. Hence a situation is rendered in which conduct of bye-elections to Legislative Assembly by causing one of his party elected representatives to resign is not possible in the present set of circumstances.
The vacancies expected to occur are conveyed by the Legislative Council Secretariat to the government now presided over by the same incumbent Chief Minister who shall notify the Governor.
Propriety in general demands that a Chief Minister or for that matter in the national scene a Prime Minister should normally be elected by the people of the state or the nation. But we have already a not so good precedent where we had Prime Minister who was a member of Rajya Sabha for the entire tenure of his Prime Ministership of 10 years. This respected incumbent is feted out as a very honest Prime Minister. Do we gauge honesty only by the establishment of giving or taking of a bribe? Is there no concept of personal integrity or intellectual honesty. I do not but he knew well that he was an appointed Prime Minister, not an elected Prime Minister. He knew he was appointed as per unnotified recruitment rules passed by the high and mighty of the party.
Now our friend the Maharastra Chief Minister explores the other option. He seeks to enter the Legislative Council. Given the precedent already set by the feted out, Honest Prime Minister appointed to the post. But this Maharasthra Chief Minister is an independent leader of an independent party. Does it behoove of his status? This is a question for his voters. It is valid legally but political morality is a scarce commodity. He did have the other option of relinquishing the Chief Ministers post by resigning and getting himself sworn in for the next tenure as Chief Minister. On the moral scale that would be ranked may be higher given the extenuating circumstance in the existing situation of fight against the pandemic. But the virtue of his present proposal to enter through Legislative Council, he is reinforcing and validating a wrong moral precedent set by a feted out Honest Ex-Prime Minister.
Now the situation is such that due to prevailing situation events his eligible voters cannot be made to assemble to vote for the biennale elections for the MLC seats. Whether elections can be held or not is the prerogative of the Governor. The vacancies expected to occur are conveyed by the Legislative Council Secretariat to the government now presided over by the same incumbent Chief Minister who shall notify the Governor. In the given set of circumstances, he has to make a decision whether elections can be held and later notify the Election Commission of India to conduct the same Article 324 (clause 6). This is the practice that is followed.
Hence after notifying the Governor the incumbent Chief Minister should put that to rest. He is aware of the ongoing crisis of pandemic. He should be focussing on the appropriate steps to counter this pandemic and its resultant effects on the state populace which is, unfortunately, one of the most affected in India. In fact, an opportunity presented to him to put service before self. But he chose the pursuit of saving his Chief Minister’s chair. Perhaps he was scared to lose the chair had he resigned technically demitted the position and sought himself to re sworn again as Chief Minister to commence a fresh tenure of six months. He was not sure that his allies will not use this chance to usurp the chair for themselves. He called up the Prime Minister of the country for intervention with the government.
Article 324 and the Representation of People’s Act vest enormous powers with the Commission to defer the conduct of elections when the situation is not conducive.
This action of the Chief Minister exposes his fears and feelings as a whole. As already explained above he doesn’t trust his allies stands exposed. Then surely is a self-serving discordant coalition arrangement which is ruling the state. Maharashtra (Mumbai) is the financial capital of India. Pune is an important center in the industrial and IT-enabled services map of India which are major economic drivers. Besides, one of the world’s biggest feature film industry is headquartered in Mumbai. Mumbai port is one of the lifelines of trade and commerce of the country. Can these important elements be left under the administration of a coalition of a self-serving bunch of individuals? The nation begs for an answer.
Besides in any normal circumstance history has been a witness in independent India that Governor has always faced a lot of flak. His most objective reports are seen through the political lens. Romesh Bhandari might have shown a marked inclination for keeping the center happy or Gopal Krishna Gandhi might have chosen to send “ Nothing to report” in his periodical reports to Union Home Ministry when the Tablighi Jamaat were building their bases in West Bengal. But still, most of the Governors are always seen as furthering the Union Government’s agenda.
In this circumstance speaking to Prime Minister seeking his intervention in a domain which is purely Governors is a situation we call “the boot is on the other leg.” We are not privy to what transpired thereafter. Mind you as laid out in Article 163 the Governor acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Minister headed by the Chief Minister. In this context, if it had already been advised by the Chief Minister and it was under the consideration of the Governor already then why this childish effort to seek the intervention of the Prime Minister. Do we not recall situations like a son of a governing body member asking his father to request the class teacher set question papers to his comfort. Grow up, Uddhav Ji. Act like a man. Don’t betray to the world at large that you love your chair more than the people of Maharashtra.
We do not, however, know what the Prime Minister does? But surely the Governor immediately requests Election Commission of India to conduct the biennale elections to Legislative Council of Maharashtra during the ongoing restrictions when even participation in funerals is being restricted. Is one man’s interest is more prior than the interest of the pubic of Maharashtra. A question nation begs for an answer. At the same time had this been rejected many Modi haters would have screamed “fascist regime hinders Maharashtra CM Elections” Maybe fell to pressure or did not want an unavoidable controversy or is it a quid pro quo amongst politicians of different hues?
Beyond this as reported what does the Election Commission of India do? They announce that the Election shall be held on May 27, 2020, whether pandemic or no pandemic. Article 324 and the Representation of People’s Act vest enormous powers with the Commission to defer the conduct of elections when the situation is not conducive. Being an institution independent by nature they should have invoked these powers. But they chose to accommodate one individual’s interest over and above the interest of people of Maharashtra at large. In doing this they have also set a bad precedent.
IT boils down to an ultimate question. In India, equality is a myth. Powerful citizens are more equal than ordinary ones.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.