Maharashtra Slips into President's Rule Even with Hours Left of NCP's 'Deadline'

Meanwhile, denied an extension of their deadline, Shiv Sena moved the Supreme Court against what they called were the governor’s “arbitrary and malafide intentions”.

Mumbai/New Delhi: Maharashtra’s political chaos worsened late on Tuesday as President’s rule was imposed on the state following the state governor’s recommendation, even though several hours remained of the Nationalist Congress Party’s deadline to form a government. 

On November 11, governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had granted NCP time till 8.30 pm on November 12 to stake its claim in the state. But by afternoon, Koshyari had already sent his recommendation to the Union Cabinet which reportedly accepted the recommendation promptly. President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent was obtained soon after. 

This is the third time that the President’s rule has been imposed on the state. In 1980, it was imposed in the state for 112 days and in 2014, for 33 days. 

Maharashtra governor B.S. Koshyari. Photo: Twitter

After the Bhartiya Janata Party, the largest party in the state with 105 MLAs, declined to stake their claim to form the government in the state on November 9, the governor had invited Shiv Sena, the second largest party with 56 seats.

The BJP and the Sena had been in a pre-poll alliance. After the announcement of the results, the alliance broke as the BJP was not willing to give in to the demands made by the Sena for an equal share in the government and the chief minister’s post for two and half years. As the talks failed, the Sena cozied up to the NCP and expressed hopes for the Congress to agree to give either direct or outside support. 

On November 11, the Sena staked its claim to form the government. But the Congress did not send its consent letter in favour of the Sena, resulting in the Sena losing the chance to form the government. Unlike the BJP, which was granted 72 hours to prove its strength, the governor had given the Sena only 24 hours to stake claim.

The party sought for an extension and when that was denied, they moved the Supreme Court on November 12 against what they called were the governor’s “arbitrary and malafide intentions”.

Sunil Fernandes, who is appearing on the record for the Sena told The Wire that the writ petition was moved on an urgent basis. However, until 5 pm, the lawyers had not heard from the court’s registry if the petition was to be indeed taken up on an urgent basis. Fernandes also shared that his legal team was ready with another petition which would be filed as soon as President’s rule was going to be imposed in the state. 

On November 12, however, it was the NCP’s chance to stake a claim in forming the government, as the third largest party with 54 MLAs. Sharad Pawar, the party chief, has remained the most important leader of this election, almost dragging his party and the Congress out from their death bed and managing a fairly decent show in the polls. The Congress has 44 MLAs in the state, despite the party’s poor performance and several internal fights and the national leaders’ apathy. 

Pawar had been coordinating with Congress leaders, mainly the acting president of Congress, Sonia Gandhi, on November 11 and according to his nephew and former deputy chief minister of the state Ajit Pawar, the senior leader had waited for an entire day to hear from the Congress.

Also read: Why Demanding a Confidence Vote is Not the Way to Solve Maharashtra’s Political Crisis

Several party leaders have openly expressed their displeasure over the way Congress reportedly handled the state crisis. Ajit Pawar, speaking to the media in Mumbai, said, “From 10 am till 7:30 pm on Monday, our leaders including Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel were waiting for their letter. They (Shiv Sena) had to submit the letter at 7:30 pm. If Congress was not sending its letter of support, how could we give ours.”

NCP has maintained that it will not take any decision on its own but will only announce decisions after elaborate consultation with its pre-poll ally, Congress. The two parties together have 98 seats and for the halfway mark of 145 seats it needs the Sena to form the government.

The Congress, which had expressed its reluctance in going with the Sena in the past seems to have softened its stand now. Today, according to Maharashtra Congress leaders, the party’s acting president Sonia Gandhi had given the party a green signal to discuss the details of forming a government together.

Three senior leaders Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and K.C. Venugopal were flown down from Delhi to Mumbai to meet Pawar. The meeting was a closed-door one with only a select few leaders participating in the conversation. 

Soon after the meeting today, the Congress leaders along with their counterparts from NCP met the media in Mumbai. The leaders were open in expressing their discontent against the governor and called his action unacceptable. The two parties, however, reiterated that they could decide on going with the Sena only after the modalities of their working together were figured out. “We have not yet been able to discuss the common minimum program that the two parties would work on along with the Sena. For now, we have only been addressing the chaos in the state. We will soon discuss it and talk to Sena,” Pawar said.

The two parties also indicated that they have been “keen on going ahead with the Sena” and hence have even taken efforts to hold several meetings in Mumbai and New Delhi.

Both the Congress and the Sena have had to hole their MLAs up in hotels in Jaipur and Mumbai respectively fearing poaching attempts by the BJP. As it got clearer that the NCP would not be able to form the government today and when the president’s rule was eventually applied, Sena leader Thackeray went to see his MLAs who were lodged at a hotel in the outskirts of Mumbai.

The BJP has been claiming that it would not indulge in horse-trading and will not try to buy out any MLAs in the state. This has not convinced the Congress and the Sena. The Congress has already lost several of its senior, efficient leaders to a massive poaching drive that was launched by the BJP and Sena before the polls. The Congress’s 44 MLAs are understood to have remained with the party.

Governor’s discretion supreme

Although governor Koshyari has been severely criticised for not honouring the deadline and sending his recommendation for  President’s rule even when the NCP was still doing its math, the Constitution has granted several crucial powers to the governor, giving him a free hand to take a final decision. 

According to Article 163 and 164, if any situation arises whereby the governor is by or under Constitution required to act in his discretion, the decision taken by him shall be final and that the validity of anything done by the governor must not be called in question.

This, however, gets used in the favour of the dominant party in most cases. Several senior leaders on Tuesday expressed their shock and concern over governor Koshyari’s decision to push for President’s rule. Koshyari, an RSS veteran is a member of the BJP from Uttarakhand. 

Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala questioned the Maharashtra governor for the “arbitrary” allotment of time to the NCP, Shiv Sena and the BJP to prove support for government formation. “This is unashamedly dishonest and politically motivated,” Surjewala said.

Also read: NCP-Congress and Sena May Put Aside Ideological Differences, but Steering Govt Won’t Be Easy

CPM general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, too lashed out against the governor.