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‘Shrewd politician, BJP puppet’: Why Governor Koshyari is at heart of Maharashtra deadlock

Maha Vikas Aghadi’s 28 months in power have witnessed a de facto war between Raj Bhavan & state secretariat. Governor has sat on govt’s list of MLC nominees for over a year.

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Mumbai/Dehradun: “A strong personality” who “just can’t live without politics” and goes by the rules — but also a “simple man” who follows the “RSS ways of living”.  That’s how officials who’ve worked closely with Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, and members of his former political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responded when asked to describe him. 

His critics, mostly members of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, on the other hand, called him a “puppet” of the BJP-led central government, who “doesn’t believe in the niceties of democracy”, and “looks at every decision from a political prism”.

The MVA’s 28-odd months in power have frequently been marred by a de facto war between Raj Bhavan and the state secretariat. For over a year, Koshyari has been sitting on the state government’s list of 12 nominees for the Legislative Council under the governor’s quota. 

Similarly, leaders of the MVA which comprises the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress have called on the governor at least three times to request him to finalise the date for the election of the Legislative Assembly Speaker.

On Tuesday, Koshyari denied permission to hold this election in the current Budget session of the Assembly on the ground that the matter is sub-judice. This is expected to further fuel the ongoing tussle.

In the past, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s nomination to the Legislative Council — needed for him to continue in the CM’s chair — lay pending with Koshyari for nearly six months.

The Shiv Sena had slammed Koshyari a hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) supporter and a former chief minister of Uttarakhand as a “BJP puppet”

The rift between the governor and the MVA came to the fore once again earlier this month, when the former wrapped up his address to the state legislature within a minute and walked out amid chaos in the House. 

“This situation has never occurred in Maharashtra before. It could be any government or governor in Maharashtra, but such a situation never occurred before,” Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande told ThePrint.

“The sole reason for the constant tussle is that the governor is appointed by the central government and the BJP couldn’t come to power here — so how to stall the MVA government, how to damage the government? So the governor is used as a puppet at the hands of the central BJP government,” she added. 

A senior Congress leader in the MVA government said, “We had excellent relationships with various governors in the past, but this governor is looking at everything from a political prism.”

BJP MLA Ram Kadam, however, said that the governor simply follows rules. 

Before he became governor of Maharashtra in 2019, Koshyari was an important power centre in the Uttarakhand BJP. Not only is he a former CM of that state, he was also the leader of the opposition in Assembly for five years.

Also Read: Mimicry, catcalls, walkouts — Maharashtra assembly saw more drama than discussions in past year

The Koshyari-MVA tussle 

The first signs of a conflict between Maharashtra’s Raj Bhavan and the MVA emerged in the midst of the political crisis following the state Assembly election in October 2019. With no party able to prove its majority, President’s Rule was imposed as frantic alliance negotiations went on, with the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress coming together to form the NCP.

But, in the wee hours of 23 November, 2019, Koshyari administered the oath of office to the BJP’s outgoing CM Devendra Fadnavis, who had the suppot of a small faction of the NCP, even as Maharashtra woke up to newspapers with banner headlines about the formation of the MVA government and declaration of Uddhav Thackeray as the next CM. 

Five days later — after Fadnavis resigned ahead of a floor test ordered by the Supreme Court — Uddhav was sworn in as CM, and needed to be nominated to the Legislative Council before May 2020 in order to continue in office. However, his nomination lay pending with the governor for nearly six months. Despite repeated requests, Raj Bhavan did not approve his nomination until April 2020, when Uddhav dialed the Prime Minister’s Office.

That same year, in October, Koshyari and Uddhav had an acerbic exchange of letters over the issue of reopening places of worship after the Covid-19 lockdown. Asking for temples to be opened, the governor asked the CM if he had “become secular”. The latter retorted that he didn’t need Koshyari’s certificate for his Hindutva. 

The MVA leader quoted earlier told ThePrint that Koshyari is a “hardcore RSS man” who “doesn’t believe in the niceties of democracy” and “looks at every decision from a political prism”.

“This is nothing but harassing the government,” he further said.

Conflict over MLC nominations, speaker election, controversial remarks

The conflict between Koshyari and the MVA over the nomination of 12 MLCs, and the election of the Assembly speaker, has been especially long drawn. 

The government had sent the names of 12 nominees to be elected as MLCs under the governor’s quota, but Koshyari is yet to take a call on this. 

Earlier this month, the Bombay High Court had pulled up the chief minister and the governor, saying it was “unfortunate that the two highest functionaries do not trust each other”.

BJP MLA Ram Kadam, however, said this wasn’t the governor’s fault. 

“If they had given a list that was appropriate as per law and regulations, he would have approved that. The governor will act as per the Constitution. The BJP has nothing to do with it,” he told ThePrint.

“The governor is very accessible and available for anyone. And even after that, they are blaming him — for what reason?” asked Kadam.

The assembly speaker’s post, meanwhile, has been lying vacant since last February, when Nana Patole resigned to take charge as Maharashtra Congress president. In July last year, Koshyari wrote to CM Thackeray, asking when the government planned on holding the election for a new speaker.

For the MVA — a coalition comprised of newfound allies who have had their share of rifts —the prospect of an election was a precarious issue then as it required a second show of stength in the assembly, with the additional risk posed by a secret ballot.

In December last year, the MVA government amended the assembly rules to hold the election through a voice vote, a safer option for the government than a secret ballot. Since then, it has been requesting the governor to set a date for the poll.  T

However, these amendments have since been challenged through PILs in the Bombay High Court, and the governor’s 15 March letter has put a spanner in the works. “Since the matter is sub judice, the date for election of the speaker of the Legislative Assembly cannot be fixed,” the letter said.

Koshyari also stoked controversy when he claimed last month claiming that Samarth Ramdas, a 17th-century spiritual teache who was born into a Brahmin family in Maharashtra, was Chhatrapati Shivaji’s teacher. Another remark, purportedly mocking the child marriage of 19th-century social refomers Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, also drew flak from MVA leaders. 

An official working with Koshyari said the governor often attempts “tongue-in-cheek humour”, and while he needs to be mindful of what he says, “there can be a slip of tongue at times”.

“He is a very strong personality and doesn’t listen to our advice. He will listen, but will ignore our suggestions,” he said, adding that relations between Koshyari and the MVA, in his opinion, are beyond repair now. 

“He just can’t live without politics, and you cannot take politics out of him,” the official further said.

ThePrint sought a response from the governor’s office, which said it did not wish to comment on the issue. 

‘Shrewd politician’, a ‘power centre’ in Uttarakhand

Bhagat Singh Koshyari has also been an important power centre in the Uttarakhand BJP. 

The state party has witnessed a major, long-running factional fight between Koshyari and his arch-rival, former CM Major Gen B.C. Khanduri. Being a hardcore RSS man, Koshyari had an edge as to his clout in the state’s organisational setup, sources in the BJP told ThePrint.

Political analysts consider Koshyari to be a “shrewd” politician whose opponents never had an inkling as to his moves and actions.

“It’s a well-known fact that Koshyari has always been a grassroots leader with huge clout among the masses, and with the BJP’s central leadership as well. He is the only leader in the BJP with pan-state mass appeal, who could match the stature of the Congress party’s Harish Rawat,” said Dehradun-based political analyst Jai Singh Rawat.

Koshyari was the second chief minister of the state and the only sitting CM to have won in assembly elections. He was leader of the opposition from 2002 to 2007 after his party lost Uttarakhand’s first assembly election after it was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000.

Koshyari then became the state BJP chief from 2007 to 2009 after BC Khanduri was made CM. He was later elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2008 in order to keep him away from Uttarakhand politics, party sources said.

In 2014, he was elected to the Lok Sabha, but was denied a ticket in the 2019 general election and was made governor of Maharashtra in August 2019.

However, party sources said Koshyari still calls the shots in Uttarakhand, adding that it’s well known that Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami has always been a Koshyari loyalist in the factional struggle within the state organisation. 

Dhami was his advisor and officer on special duty in 2002 when Koshyari headed the interim government of Uttarakhand. BJP leaders in the state said that the decision to make Dhami CM had “Koshyari’s blessings”. 

“The Maharashtra governor was a key force in the repealing of the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Board Act, which also helped the party to win this election,” a BJP leader told ThePrint.

Simple man who follows RSS way of living

An official who works with the governor said Koshyari still follows the “RSS way of living” and is a simple man. 

“He gets up at 3 am every day, does yoga and prefers to make his own tea. In the evening, if there are no programmes lined up, he likes to take a walk in the garden without fail. He is not at all a movie person, but he is an avid reader. He has no hobbies except reading. He likes to read English literature, and new languages. Apart from his Pahadi languages, he knows Hindi, English, Marathi, Bengali, and even Nepali languages,” he added.

The official further said that the governor is a “people’s person” who has travelled to 33 districts of Maharashtra. 

“Leave his politics aside, he is a man who loves people, understands their emotions, respects them. His unique quality is that he remembers people by their names, a very intelligent man. He has kept the governor’s house very busy. I have seen many governors working in this office, but this man has kept Raj Bhavan the busiest,” he added.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: ‘Brahminical spin on history’? Why Governor Koshyari’s remarks on Shivaji’s ‘guru’ sparked a row


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