With Shiv Sena and Congress fielding their candidates for the Speaker’s post in the Maharashtra Assembly, the Devendra Fadnvais-led government is set to face crucial tests, the Speaker’s election and the trust vote, on Wednesday.
Having staked claim for the post of the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) on Monday as a back up plan in case its deal with the BJP failed, the Sena on Tuesday threw its hat in the ring for the Speaker’s post as well. This move has caught the BJP unawares as it was still hopeful about taking Sena along and seeking their support to cross the majority mark.
The Congress, with 42 MLAs, was in a fix as it could support neither the candidate from BJP nor from the Sena for the Speaker’s post and had to field its candidate. While the BJP has named Haribhau Bagde as its candidate for the post of Speaker, the Sena has fielded Vijay Auti, and Varsha Gaikwad is the Congress nominee. Officials from the Maharashtra legislature said that this would be the first time the state would see a three-cornered fight for the post.
However, the picture will be clear only by 10.00 am on Wednesday, the deadline to withdraw nominations.
Ahead of the trust vote, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray met Sena MLAs at the party’s office in Mumbai’s Nariman Point on Tuesday evening. Soon after the meeting, the Sena issued a whip to all its MLAs to ensure that they don’t cross-vote during the Speaker’s election, which would be held using a secret ballot. Uddhav reportedly told the MLAs to prepare for the worst. However, party sources said that the Sena was still hoping for a deal with the BJP to breakthrough. The Sena was banking on a 12-hour window on Tuesday night to talk to the BJP and join the government. The nomination for the Speaker’s post could still be withdrawn on Wednesday.
The BJP, meanwhile, is making all possible efforts to have the Speaker of its choice. BJP sources said that for running a minority government, it was important to have a favourable Speaker since they are supreme on all matters related to the Assembly.
In the 288 member state assembly, BJP has 122 MLAs (22 short of a simple majority), the Sena has 63 and the Congress has 42 members. The NCP’s, which has 41 MLAs, has already announced unconditional support to the BJP government but has not spelled out which party’s candidate it would support for the post of Speaker. Meanwhile, BJP has mobilised the support of independent MLAs and smaller parties.
The Speaker’s election would be followed by the trust vote. Fadnavis, who has to prove his party’s majority on the floor of the house on Wednesday, said that he would speak to all the parties for a consensus on the Speaker’s post. However, the Congress and the Sena, both decided to go ahead with the contest. “We expect that the selection of the Speaker will go unopposed. We will speak to all parties involved and ask them to withdraw,” he said. At the same time BJP state leaders appeared confident of wining the trust vote despite Sena sitting in opposition benches. Also, If the NCP sticks to its decision of supporting BJP, the trust vote slated for Wednesday would be a mere academic exercise.
The Sena on its part insisted that it would it would sit in opposition unless the BJP clearly spelt out its position on the unconditional support extended by the NCP. “We are not going to change our stand. If the BJP wants to take support of an anti-Hindutva party like the NCP, then they are free to do so. We will contest for the Speaker’s post,” said Sena’s Leader of Legislative Assembly Eknath Shinde.
On Monday the Sena had officially communicated to the Maharashtra Assembly Secretary Anant Kalase that Shinde should be considered for the post of the Leader of the Opposition. The party said that it had staked claim for the post of Leader of Opposition only to ensure that the Congress does not bag it, in case its negotiations with the BJP failed.