Uncertainty over Maharashtra Assembly Speaker election today; post vacant since February

There appears to be uncertainty over the election for the post of the Maharashtra Assembly speaker, with conflicting reports on the same.

Why there is uncertainty over electing a new Speaker: According to some reports, the election will be held on Tuesday, the last day of the two-day Monsoon session. However, according to a Hindustan Times report, no decision has yet been reached about the Speaker.

Neither a meeting of the state cabinet on Sunday nor those held by various leaders of the ruling Maha Vika Baghdadi coalition last week was able to arrive at a unanimous decision. While the Congress wanted to hold the election soon, the other alliance partners- the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were not keen on it.

“Eleven legislators from the treasury benches are absent as they have been affected by COVID-19. In such a situation it was not advisable to hold the poll,” the report quotes Congress' Balasaheb Thorat say saying.

An Indian Express report on 3 July quoted a Cabinet minister as saying that a consensus has been reached at the state level among MVA allies to not hold the elections in the Monsoon session and it would be held only if the Congress’s central leadership insisted.

Last week, another Congress leader Nanasheb Patole had asserted that the new speaker will be from his party and there were no differences among the MVA allies over the post.

Patole had said the alliance government wants the election to be held in the Monsoon Session but the final decision will depend upon the MLAs' coronavirus test results, which are mandatory to participate in the proceedings.

He had also backed the stand taken by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in his letter to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, which stated that the duration of the two-day Monsoon session could not be extended due to the coronavirus situation and that there was "no time frame" for holding the election for the Speaker's post and it would be held at an appropriate time.

Patole had also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of playing politics over the issue by using the Governor's office.

Koshyari in a letter to Thackeray on 24 June, had directed the chief minister to elaborate on the government’s stand on extending the session, election to the post of Speaker and postponing the bypolls. The letter came after a delegation of BJP leaders led by  Devendra Fadnavis had requested the direction of the Governor.

Why is the Speaker's post vacant since February? The Speaker's post fell vacant in February after Patole resigned to take over as the state Congress president. Deputy speaker Narhari Zirwal has been performing the duties of the speaker.

The elections to the speaker's post are held through secret ballots, according to reports.

Who are the frontrunners? Senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan and three-time Bhor MLA Sangram Thopte are the frontrunners for the post along with Parbhani legislator Suresh Warpudkar and Mumbadevi legislator Amin Patel. However, the AICC may favour Thopte as there is no representation for Pune in the state Cabinet.

The Assembly session is being held against the backdrop of heightened political tensions in the state. The Shiv Sena has time and again accused the BJP's Maharashtra unit of trying to topple the MVA government with the help of central agencies but has added that it is impossible to do so.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Monday compared the Shiv Sena-BJP to AmirKhan - Kiran Rao, to stress that the political paths of his party and BJP are separate but friendship remains between the former alliance partners. "But this doesn't mean that we are going to form a government (in Maharashtra)," Raut said.

Also on Monday, 12 BJP MLAs were suspended from the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for one year after the state government accused them of "misbehaving" with presiding officer Bhaskar Jadhav in the Speaker's chamber on the first day of the Monsoon session.