Maharashtra’s Speaker post falls between MVA cracks, now hits Governor hurdle

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Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s objections aside, the imbroglio over the new Maharashtra Assembly Speaker also has its roots in the differences within the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition.

As per the power-sharing formula between the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, the Speaker’s post had gone to the Congress’s share. In February, the Sena and NCP were taken by surprise when Nana Patole resigned from the post to “work for the party” (he was subsequently made the state Congress chief). The two parties did not take the move kindly as the Speaker holds considerable power in a House where the MVA retains majority by a thread.

To make their displeasure clear, sources said, the Sena and NCP ensured that there was no election to the post of Speaker all through the Budget Session and Monsoon Session.

In an unprecedented delay, the post of the Speaker has now been vacant for nearly a year. While the rules do not set a limit by which a Speaker must be chosen, the Constitution provides that the office of the Speaker should never be empty.

The MVA cracks, however, mean that the coalition is afraid now that its nominee for Speaker might lose in a secret ballot because of cross-voting – lending it an embarrassing blow. This is seen to be the unstated reason why the MVA government amended the House rules last week to allow for the Speaker’s election through voice vote rather than a secret ballot. The government said that this was the practice followed in the Lok Sabha and a few other states, and was a way to tackle horse-trading.

While the BJP has charged that the move showed the MVA leaders did not trust their own MLAs, Koshyari too has put his foot down, calling the change in rules “unconstitutional” and “illegal”.

The MVA has accused the BJP in turn of manipulating the governor. However, sources said, the partners remain divided on what to do next. A Cabinet minister said the Congress had impressed that the election of the Speaker be held despite the Governor’s dissent. “But the Sena and NCP have taken the view that the election should not be held without the Governor’s approval.” Officially, the MVA expressed the apprehension that the appointment might not survive a legal challenge.

Patole said they had sent the Governor a detailed letter on the Speaker’s election. “The government took care to ensure that the Governor’s post is not disrespected. The entire election process could have been completed in one day, but on the last day of the session, the Governor sent a letter again. To avoid any legal issues, the MVA government put off the Speaker’s election.”

An easy resolution looks unlikely given the virtual war the MVA and BJP have declared against each in the state – with cases and counter-cases, from Param Bir Singh to Anil Deshmukh. The BJP sees little reason to cede an inch given the one-year suspension handed out to its 12 MLAs during the Monsoon Session in July. Officially, it has said that it is not appropriate to elect the new Speaker while the 12 MLAs remain suspended.

The tensions have also had a fallout in the Legislative Council, where the MVA’s recommendation regarding 12 names has been lying with the Governor for more than a year. The 12 include four each from the Sena, NCP and Congress. Koshyari has not acted on the matter despite the Bombay High Court noting that it was “desirable” that a decision be taken at the earliest.

Of the 78 members in the Legislative Council, the BJP has 23, followed by the Sena (14), NCP (11) and Congress (10).

Amidst all this, the government has touched off another row, passing a Bill on the last day of the Winter Session that curtails the powers of the Governor in the appointment of vice-chancellors of universities in the state.

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