In less than a year and a half, the Devendra Fadnavis government has lost two Advocate Generals, both resigning within months of taking over office. The previous one, Sunil Manohar, had quit last year in June seven months into the job. On Tuesday morning, his replacement Shreehari Aney handed in his resignation to the state Governor after political parties, including the BJP’s ally the Shiv Sena demanded he be removed following some controversial remrks about carving up the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions as separate states. Since the AG is a constitutional post, removing him is not easy, but given the outcry in the Legislative Assembly on Monday against him, he chose to quit.
For Fadnavis, this latest resignation is a political embarassment. Both Manohar and Aney hail from Nagpur, the hometown of Fadnavis and both had been handpicked for the job as his personal choices. Manohar had resigned amidst reports it was for “personal reasons” and Aney was brought in. At the time, local newspapers had indicated that it took Fadnavis four months to persuade Aney to take over. A Nagpur website had then described him as an “outspoken” man who called “a spade of spade.”
Apparently, that outspokenness has cost him his job. A known votary of a separate Vidarbha state, Aney last month said he supprted Marathwada’s demand for a statehood. Marathwada is the bastion of rich sugar co-operatives mainly run by Marathas and is currently experiencing a severe drought which has left it reeling. In February this year, Aney had said in court that the Maharashtra government had been “inept” in its handling of farmers’ suicides, a statement that earned him the wrath of the Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena was also earlier angered when he had suggested a referendum on statehood for Vidarbha, which Fadnavis too is said to support.
Aney said his views were well known but since some legislators had made his removal a condition to let the budget session proceed peacefully, he had chosen to resign. In a Facebook post, he said he had stood for progressive causes including the entry of women in temples and that he believed that the Advocate General was “not a Government Pleader” but was the “first lawyer of the people of the State.”
The following is Aney’s post on Facebook:
I have resigned my office as Advocate General of Maharashtra this morning at 10 am.
Let me make it clear that neither His Excellency the Governor nor the Honourable Chief Minister asked me for my resignation.
There are two reasons for my resignation. The first has to do with conflict of duty. The second concerns institutional stability.
As to the first reason, I firmly believe that the Advocate General is the first lawyer of the people of the State. The Advocate General is not a Government Pleader. Based on this belief, as Advocate General, I considered it my Constitutional duty to place the interest of the people above the interest of the governmental machinery. This was most visible in my arguments in matters concerning lack of development of Vidarbha, the insistence on the right of people of Marathwada to drinking water, and the need for stronger governmental measures to tackle the issue of farmers’ suicides and the State’s agrarian crisis. My submissions leading to withdrawal of the State’s resolution regarding sedition, and the right of women to enter places of religious worship are further illustrations of placing the interest of the people uppermost.
Such arguments might have caused discomfort to the State, but they did result in orders of the High Court which directly benefitted the neediest and most deprived sections of the public. In that, I find a complete vindication of the office of the Advocate General.
The second reason is of institutional stability. In spite of the fact that my stand on Vidarbha’s statehood is well known, it became the reason for disruption of the State’s Legislature for two weeks in the winter session.
I first declared my support to Marathwada’s statehood cause over a month ago at a public function at Ahmadnagar. I reiterated it three days ago at Jalna. I have written more elaborately about the Jalna speech in a separate post on facebook.
Once again a section of the honourable legislators have chosen to make this as an issue to stall the present budget session. As a lawyer I am aware that the failure of the budget session has the result of fall of the ruling government. It would perhaps have been better if the legislators had deliberated over the problems that occasion the demand for statehood and made some attempt to solve them. Shooting the messenger does not solve the problem.
In the present disruption of the Legislature, I see a clear pattern. Since I shall not stop from voicing my demand for Vidarbha’s statehood, and the legislators will not stop from using it as a ready excuse to stall the working of the Legislature, one of us has to step back.
In keeping with my belief that the Advocate General’s prime function is to protect the interest of the people, and that the Legislature must function if the interest of the people is to be protected, my final act as Advocate General which would be most in the interest of the people of the state was to resign the post.