Cong, NCP fight to land oppn leader's posts in Maha

Maharashtra is witnessing a never-before-seen political situation. It is over a fortnight that it does not have a Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. After the Shiv Sena joined the BJP-led government headed by Devendra Fadnavis, Eknath Shinde of the Shiv Sena resigned as LoP, the post fell vacant.

On Monday evening, NCP’s Dhananjay Munde, the nephew of late BJP leader Gopinath Munde was declared elected as the LoP in the Maharashtra Legislative Council. Though the post of LoP in the Upper House came on Monday evening, it is to be seen whether the post of LoP in the lower House is declared before the end of the winter session of Maharashtra legislature.  The winter sitting in Nagpur is expected to end before Christmas.

The issue is extremely complex and political.  The three reasons are – firstly, clearly the number game, secondly the upper hand of the BJP-Shiv Sena saffron combine in the legislative affairs and thirdly, the political rift between the Congress and Sharad Pawar-led NCP  – which broke off before the Vidhan Sabha elections – after being the ruling alliance for 15 years.

The BJP had initially formed the government with 44-year-old Fadnavis becoming the Chief Minister – and passed the floor test through a controversial voice vote. The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and the BJP too had broken off before the Vidhan Sabha elections – and Eknath Shinde of Shiv Sena became the LoP on November 12.

On December 5, after hectic negotiations, the Shiv Sena joined the BJP government and the post of LoP fell vacant – and the issue became complex. As far as the tally in 288-member Assembly is concerned, the BJP leads the tally with 122 (effective strength is 121 as MLA Govind Rathod died soon after the results) followed by Shiv Sena 63, Congress 42 and NCP 41. They are followed by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (1), Hitendra Thakur-led Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (3), All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (2) Peasants and Workers Party (3), Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (1), Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (1), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (1), Samajwadi Party (1) and Others/ Independents (7).

In the three-day special session in November, five Congress MLAs were suspended for heckling Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao – dropping their floor strength to 37. NCP legislator Jitendra Avhad too was suspended for aggressively protesting inside the House – but his suspension was revoked.

For the Assembly, the Congress has proposed the name of CLP leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil for the post of LoP and formally staked the claim, while NCP has proposed the name of senior leader R R Patil, but yet to formally stake the claim.  Vikhe-Patil is son of Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil and was the Agriculture Minister in the Democratic Front government.  The Congress preferred not to put up Prithviraj Chavan for the post as he would be one of the main targets of the Fadnavis-government.

Speaker Haribhau Bagade is yet to take a final call. “We have a strength of 41 MLAs, besides we as part of an electoral arrangement, have not contested against Hitendra Thakur-led Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, which has won three seats.

We also backed Independent MLA Ravi Rana. Hence our strength is 45. Whether we take the Congress strength of 42 or 37, we are way ahead,” NCP state President Sunil Tatkare says. On the other hand, Congress leaders say that the effective strength of 42 must be taken into account – and have substantiated and backed their claim with official records and rulings of presiding officers.

The situation in the 78-member Council was not that complex. Here the NCP has a floor strength of 28  and Congress 21 while BJP has nine and Shiv Sena 6 followed by other smaller parties and Independents. The previous LoP Vinod Tawde (BJP) won the polls and is now the education minister.

Rebel Munde
The NCP had forwarded the name of Dhananjay Munde for LoP and Chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh of Congress – announced his name as LoP on Monday .  Dhananjay Munde has rebelled against Gopinath Munde – and joined the NCP after being pursued by former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.  The NCP has also claimed the post of Chairman of Council.

The Congress is vehemently claiming the post of LoP in Assembly. “We are an Opposition party, we said it on the day of counting and we have more seats than NCP,” state NCP President Manikrao Thakre said. On the other hand, former Forests Minister and senior Congressman Dr Patangrao Kadam said that the NCP first needs to prove whether they are in government or in opposition.

It is to be mentioned here that NCP had extended “unconditional outside support” to the BJP initially – to which the latter has not officially responded. However, after the Shiv Sena joined the government, the coalition’s strength is far more than the 145 needed in the House of 288. “The BJP has ensured that the Opposition strength is depleted and has managed to keep the complex issue hanging,” political observers said.

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