- Mr Thackeray needs to get elected to legislative council before May 27
- Governor makes request for elections after Mr Thackeray's call with PM
- Devendra Fadnavis welcomes Governor's move on Twitter
Uddhav Thackeray, who has less than a month to meet a basic requirement of his job as Chief Minister - become a member of the Maharashtra legislature - may just have caught a break.
24 hours after Mr Thackeray phoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a formal request has been made for elections to be held to the legislative council or upper house of the assembly. Mr Thackeray has till May 28 to join the council which has nine vacancies. However, the elections had been postponed because of the tough lockdown imposed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The Election Commission will look into the matter today, sources said.
The move was welcomed by Mr Thackeray's predecessor, the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, whose bid for power after last year's assembly elections had drawn a blank. "This will prevent Maharashtra from going into instability in the testing times of #CoronaOutbreak &will also uphold the values of our Constitution," Mr Fadnavis said in a series of tweets.
Mr Thackeray took charge as Chief Minister of India's richest state in November last year but he had not contested the election that took place in October. Any minister has to become a member of the legislature within six months of getting the position. Winning one of the nine seats is unlikely to be any sort of challenge for the 59-year-old - his three-party alliance certainly has the numbers to ensure he wins.
But till Wednesday evening, the elections appeared indefinitely postponed. Worried about Mr Thackeray's tenuous position, the Maharashtra cabinet twice recommended that the Governor, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, choose the Chief Minister as one of the two nominees he can appoint to the legislative council. The Governor had not moved on that request.
With the deadline of May 28 looming, Mr Thackeray dialled the PM last night and reportedly spoke of attempts to weaken his position. The remonstrance was a combined complaint about both the Governor and the PM's party, the BJP, thwarting Mr Thackeray's ability to join the legislature.
On Thursday, after a request from Uddhav Thackeray to facilitate elections, Governor Koshyari wrote to the Election Commission urging elections to the legislative council "at the earliest". With various relaxations being introduced for the lockdown, he said it should be possible to conduct elections.
A similar appeal went to the Election Commission from the state's ruling coalition – Mr Thackeray's Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress. Election Commission sources said they have received the coalition's letter, but the Governor's letter is yet to reach.
The Governor's earlier stance had set off fresh accusations of partisanship from the ruling coalition.
Before Mr Thackeray took charge, the Governor had administered the oath of office to the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis in an early-morning ceremony in presence of a handful of BJP leaders.
The oath ceremony had taken place after Ajit Pawar had presented the letters of support from the MLAs of the Nationalist Congress Party to the Governor, claiming that a government led by Mr Fadnavis has the numbers.
But with Mr Thackeray in alliance with a section of Ajit Pawar's party, the BJP-led government collapsed within just 72 hours, leading critics to point out that Governor Koshiyari had been unable to make a proper assessment of who was best placed to lead the state.
"We welcome Hon Governor @BSKoshyari ji's decision to recommend the ECI to conduct the election of the 9 vacant seats of Maharashtra Legislative Council expeditiously. We are sure that the ECI, in consultation with Ministry of Home Affairs will take decision to take election ASAP," Mr Fadnavis has tweeted.
"This will prevent Maharashtra from going into instability in the testing times of #CoronaOutbreak &will also uphold the values of our Constitution. It will also uphold the convention that a (MLC)member nominated by Hon Governor shouldn't join the Cabinet(i.e become a CM/Minister)," another of his tweets read.