With rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde having brought political turmoil to the state of Maharashtra, and the possibility of a split in the Shiv Sena, the Deputy Assembly Speaker, Narhari Zirwal, has the spotlight on him and may play a crucial role in the coming days to possibly save the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government from collapse.
When the alliance government of Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena was formed in 2019, Congress' Nana Patole became Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
However, the grand old party made Patole quit when he was appointed as the state Congress chief in 2020.
Meanwhile, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari was admitted to hospital after he tested COVID-19 positive on Wednesday, 22 June.
Since then the Congress party has not selected a new speaker, a decision that might cost the government now.
After Patole resigned in 2020, NCP legislator and tribal leader Narhari Zirwal was elected unopposed as Deputy Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
Zirwal can discharge the duties of the Assembly Speaker in the meantime, but this is likely to be informed by any bigger picture considerations of the NCP, including any chance of an alliance without the Congress.
Meanwhile, Zirwal on Thursday, 23 June, announced that he has approved the appointment of Ajay Choudhary as the Shiv Sena's group leader in the House, replacing rebel legislator Eknath Shinde.
The Shiv Sena on Tuesday had removed Shinde as the party's group leader in the Assembly, hours after he revolted.
On Wednesday morning, rebel Sena leader Eknath Shinde claimed the support of 46 MLAs, which meets the two-thirds requirement to beat the anti-defection law.
Shinde had reached Radisson Blu Hotel in Guwahati, Assam, on Wednesday morning, along with a group of Maharashtra MLAs, possibly making it the first time that MLAs from a Western Indian state were taken to a Northeastern state after their rebellion against the party leadership.
The rebel leader has argued that Sena has only weakened during their "unnatural alliance" with the Congress and the NCP, and wants Uddhav Thackeray to join forces with the Bharatiya Janata Party to supposedly carry forward "Balasaheb Thackeray's Hindutva."
Now, if Thackeray refuses to accept Shinde’s demand, the latter may approach the Deputy Speaker and ask his rebel group to be recognised as the real Shiv Sena.
What Options Does the MVA Govt Have?
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Wednesday threatened the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly in the state, which raises the prospect of a mid-term election.
Even if the state government recommends dissolution of the House, the demand can be challenged by the governor citing the suspect numbers of the government.
At this time, unless the 'rebel' Shiv Sena MLAs resign from their party or vote against the party whip, they cannot be disqualified under the anti-defection law. In the event either of those things happen, Deputy Speaker Zirwal will have to examine the situation and decide whether they should be disqualified.
The second of the two issues is likely to be a major flashpoint given Shinde is claiming to have a majority of the party's MLAs on his side, triggering a debate over who can issue directions on voting to the Shiv Sena's MLAs.
The Shinde faction may also approach the governor and challenge the MVA government's majority, dropping the ball in the governor's court.
The question remains – what will Zirwal do? Will he back the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena if the political winds shift, keeping the MVA alive? Or will he accept the rebel faction as real Shiv Sena, completing the collapse of the MVA government?
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