NAGPUR, Maharashtra: First-time chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is facing the biggest challenge of his administrative career so far in tackling Maharashtra’s growing coronavirus cases, but unless he moves fast, there will be an unexpected political side-effect to the pandemic: resignation.
When the 59-year-old Shiv Sena leader took oath as the chief minister of India’s richest state on 28 November last year, he was not a member of any House of the Maharashtra legislature.
According to India’s Constitution, a minister or chief minister of any state must be a member of the state’s legislative council or assembly. If he or she is not a member of either at the time of swearing-in, they have six months to get elected or resign from the post.
Thackeray’s six months will be up on 28 May, but the postponement of the legislative council elections which were due this month has created uncertainty over his continuation in office at a time when Maharashtra’s Covid-19 case tally has crossed 1,000.
During his decades-long political career, Thackeray—who has received praise for his government’s proactive handling of the situation—has never been a member of any elected body. His son Aaditya Thackeray was the first member of the Thackeray family to contest and win any election, direct or indirect, in last year’s state assembly polls.
The results were followed by days of uncertainty before the Maha Vikas Aghadi, a coalition between Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, came to power with Thackeray at the helm.
A senior Shiv Sena leader put a brave front, telling HuffPost India that the unprecedented situation would not lead to a constitutional crisis in the state.
“There will be a decision on this issue in the state cabinet’s meeting tomorrow,” said Maharashtra’s transport minister Anil Parab.
While the nationwide lockdown to control the highly infectious disease is supposed to end on 14 April, there are indications that it will be extended further.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi was planning to send Thackeray to the upper house of the state legislature, where nine seats are due to be vacated by 24 April. But due to the ongoing lockdown, the Election Commission of India is yet to announce the date for MLC polls, for which it requires a minimum of three weeks to prepare.
Parab, however, pointed out that even if the lockdown were to be extended until 1 May, there would still be 27 days left for the deadline.
“The programme (legislative council polls) can be conducted in 20 days, which is the first option. There is another way through the governor, which is our second option,” he said.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi also said that these were “unusual circumstances”.
“It’s not that he is not wanting to get elected. I don’t see any constitutional crisis because the Election Commission has expressed its inability to conduct the election due to this pandemic. It becomes the responsibility of the election commission to ensure that there is no constitutional crisis out of this decision in any state. ,” she told HuffPost India.
A Mumbai-based senior political observer said on condition of anonymity that if nothing else works out, Thackeray’s last option could be to resign and take oath again. In that case, the entire state cabinet will also have to resign and take oath again.
This person pointed out that the chief minister could also turn to the two vacant seats in the legislative council, where the governor has to nominate candidates.