COVID-19 to delay Uddhav's election as legislator?

COVID-19 to delay Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray's election as legislator?

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Credit: PTI Photo

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Maharashtra is likely face a tricky political situation soon as Uddhav Thackeray, who took oath as the state chief minister in November last year, has to get elected to either House of the state legislature by the end of May.

Thackeray, who is still not a member of either the state Legislative Assembly or Council, was sworn in as the chief minister on November 28, 2019 following an unprecedented month-long political drama after the assembly poll results.

As per Article 164 (4) of the Constitution, a minister, who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of the legislature shall at the expiration of that period ceases to be a minister. The six-month period in Thackeray's case will end on May 28.

However, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the ongoing lockdown, the political activity in the state has come to a standstill.

The gram panchayat elections scheduled to be held in March were also deferred.

Read: Coronavirus India update: State-wise total number of confirmed cases, deaths

Nine legislative council seats are falling vacant on April 24 and Thackeray was set to be elected as an MLC during the biennial elections to these nine seats.

However, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has still not announced the election schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ECI had earlier deferred the Rajya Sabha polls in view of COVID- 19 and said that the fresh date would be announced later.

Similarly, the by-election to the Maharashtra Legislative Council from the Dhule Nandurbar local authorities constituency scheduled on March 24 was also postponed.

According to sources, if the dates for the biennial elections to nine legislative council seats are not announced after the lockdown period ends on April 14, the state may head for a political logjam.

Thackeray may have to resign from his post and cannot be sworn in till he becomes a member of either house of the legislature.

Sources in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), however, said the situation will not go that extent.

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Sources said that in the past, NCP leader Fauzia Khan and Shiv Sena's Deepak Sawant, who were members of the legislative council, had continued as ministers after their term as MLC ended.

"But both- Fauzia Khan, who was school education minister in the Prithivraj Chavan government, and Deepak Sawant, who was health minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government- resigned later," sources said.

According to sources, Khan and Sawant were already members of the legislature and ministers so they could continue for another six months.

"But in Thackeray's case, he is not a member of the legislature and within six months, he has to become an MLA or an MLC. The six-month time-frame is not extended as per constitutional provisions," they said.

"The minister, in this case the chief minister, has to get elected in six months, failing which he ceases to be in the post," sources said.

This is a peculiar political situation for which Thackeray may have to step aside and make way for other Sena leaders like Eknath Shinde or Subhash Desai, who are ministers in his cabinet.

Sources, however, said that Thackeray would have the option of getting elected as one of the 12 Governor appointees. Vacancies for the 12 seats will be in June.

When asked about it, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut told PTI, "We haven't given a thought to this issue as yet. But a solution would be found. A situation will not arise that the state may have to face a political crisis, I can say this with confidence."

In the past, Sushilkumar Shinde and Prithviraj Chavan had become chief ministers when they were not member of either house of the state legislature. But within six months, Shinde was elected to the Assembly, while Chavan chose the Council route.

Sources said a Supreme Court judgement ruled that Article 164 (4) places a restriction on a non-member to continue as minister or chief minister unless he can get himself elected to the legislature within a period of six months from the date of his appointment.

The supreme court order was in respect to a case in Punjab where Tej Parkash Singh was made a minister in 1995 when he was not member of the legislature. He failed to get himself elected in six months and resigned.

Talking to PTI, former state legislature principal secretary Anant Kalse said the court judgements in such cases are about misuse of Article 164 (4).

"In this (Thackeray's) case, there is no misuse. There is an unprecedented situation due to which elections could not be held. If the elections to the legislative council are not announced till May end, then the chief minister can resign and the entire council of ministers can take oath again," he said.

"Or else, he can become a member of the Legislative Council as a Governor appointee for the time being," he said.

A senior NCP minister said at present there are two governor appointee vacancies from the party quota.

Rahul Narvekar and Ram Wadkute, both NCP MLCs from the governor appointee category resigned as members to join the BJP before the assembly elections.

Narvekar is now a BJP MLA from Colaba in Mumbai.

"Everybody is now busy with coronavirus eradication. We have not given a thought to this issue as yet. But the matter would be resolved," a Congress minister said.