Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has got a breather, with the Election Commission (EC) today granting permission to hold elections to the Legislative Council (MLCs) of Maharashtra on 21 May. The management of this election must follow the necessary guidelines for safety against COVID-19, the EC has said.
The EC gave this clearance after Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari urged it to declare the MLC elections to the nine vacant seats “at the earliest”. These seats have been vacant since 24 April. Once they are filled, the current political uncertainty in Maharashtra will end.
Since Uddhav Thackeray, who had been sworn in as chief minister on 28 November 2019, is not a member of either legislative house of the state, the relevant rule of the constitution dictates that he needs to get elected to the council before 27 May when six months since he assumed the office end.
Earlier in the day, the chief minister met the governor at the Raj Bhavan and exchanged Maharashtra Day greetings. The meeting lasted about 20 min.
Koshyari said in the meeting held with Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora via video conferencing that the Centre had relaxed lockdown enforcement in the country and, therefore, the MLC elections could be held following the MHA guidelines.
While these elections were to be held earlier, the EC had postponed the process due to the epidemic of the coronavirus disease (COVID) and the ongoing lockdown imposed to break the infection chain.
The governor had, before referring the matter to the EC, declined the requests of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to nominate Thackeray in one of the two MLC seats from his quota.
For nearly the entire past month, leaders of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress have been repeatedly appealing to the governor to name Thackeray from one seat in his quota to avert a constitutional crisis in the state.
On Monday, Thackeray spoke with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. On Tuesday he called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the same issue.
Thackeray reportedly complained to the prime minister about “attempts to weaken his position” in the middle of the COVID crisis.
The Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar-led state cabinet had called on the governor this week, again and again, to urge him to not let the position of the chief minister hang in suspended animation. Several Sena leaders and ministers met with Koshyari too with the same request. The NCP-INC issued statements to the effect.
With the governor now throwing the ball in the EC’s court, an INC leader said the political situation would be clear only after 3 May when the second phase of the national lockdown ends.
The EC has also decided that the elections due for 18 vacant seats in the Rajya Sabha will not be held for now.