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Sunday, August 14, 2022
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Shinde govt scores big win in Maharashtra assembly as BJP MLA Rahul Narvekar is elected Speaker

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Mumbai: The new Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government emerged successful in its first major test in the state legislative assembly Sunday as its contender Rahul Narvekar won the Speaker election by a comfortable margin.

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Narvekar, the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shinde-led rebel Shiv Sena group, secured 164 votes in the assembly. He defeated Rajan Salvi — fielded jointly by the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress as the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) — who received 107 votes.

Of the 164 votes Narvekar received, 104 were from the BJP (two were absent), 39 from the rebels in the Shinde camp, and the rest were from Independents and smaller parties.

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The assembly currently has 287 members. Narvekar is a BJP MLA from Mumbai’s Colaba constituency, while Salvi is a Shiv Sena MLA from Ratnagiri’s Rajapur constituency.

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Three members of the assembly — two from the Samajwadi Party and one from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen — cast neutral votes. A total of 275 members were present in the House, including Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal and 274 MLAs. All those present, barring Zirwal as he was in charge of the proceedings, voted.

The Speaker’s post had been lying vacant since Congress’ Nana Patole stepped down in February 2021 to take up the position of the Maharashtra Congress president. The Speaker election will be followed by a floor test of the new government Monday.

Speaking in the state assembly Sunday, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said: “I was urban development minister (in the former MVA government). I stepped down and with me eight or nine ministers stepped down. All of us know that on one side, there was power, and on the other side there was a common sainik (soldier) of Balasaheb Thackeray and Anand Dighe saheb. I am fortunate that these (rebel) MLAs  believed in a common karyakarta like me,” Shinde said.

Meanwhile, Shiv Sena’s chief whip Sunil Prabhu said in the House, “History will never forget that 39 members (the rebel Sena MLAs) ignored the whip of a party and voted against its candidate.” All 16 Sena MLAs who did not jump ship to the Shinde camp, were present in the assembly Sunday.

Earlier this month, a group of MLAs under Shinde’s leadership rebelled against the Shiv Sena and broke away from the MVA. This caused Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray to resign as chief minister, and the MVA government to fall.

The Shinde camp then cobbled together a government with the BJP, with Shinde at the helm and BJP leader and former CM Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy. Both took oath last Thursday.

“There were many claims to bring me down by spreading rumours that 10-15 MLAs are in touch (with the Uddhav camp). I said give me names, I will charter a flight and send them back,” Shinde further said in the House.

The CM was referring to claims from the Thackeray camp that several of the rebel MLAs were being held against their wishes and wanted to return.

Why Speaker election was crucial

The Speaker election was a crucial event for the newly-formed government of the BJP and the Shiv Sena rebel faction.

Having their own Speaker will help the Shiv Sena rebels tide over the disqualification notices issued to some of them by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal after they broke away from the former MVA government.

With BJP MLA Narvekar as Speaker, the Shiv Sena rebels are also cushioned from claims from the Thackeray camp that the rebels did not follow the party whip.

The Shiv Sena was hoping to have the 39 rebel MLAs disqualified if they do not vote in favour of its candidate, Salvi. Accordingly, Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu on Saturday through a letter issued directives to all 55 MLAs of the party to be present in assembly and vote for its candidate.

Shiv Sena’s Prabhu had also approached the Supreme Court seeking the suspension of CM Shinde and 15 MLAs against whom disqualification proceedings are pending. The court said it was “fully conscious” of the issue, but agreed to hear it only on 11 July, along with the main petition of the 16 rebel MLAs against the disqualification notices.

On Friday, Shiv Sena president Thackeray, in a letter addressed to CM Shinde, stripped him of the post of the party’s ‘neta’, its first rung of leaders, saying, “You have been indulging in anti-party activities and have also voluntarily given up your membership of Shiv Sena.”

Rebel MLAs return to Mumbai 

The Shiv Sena rebels — who were first put up in a hotel in Surat, then Guwahati and finally in Goa — returned to Mumbai by flight Saturday evening. They were then taken to the Taj President hotel in Cuffe Parade from the airport’s domestic terminal at Santacruz by bus.

To show solidarity, CM Shinde also travelled the distance between the airport and the hotel by bus with the MLAs in his faction. The police had cleared the entire route as a green corridor.

At the Taj President, the rebel MLAs had a joint meeting with BJP legislators, who were already at the hotel, with CM Shinde and deputy CM Fadnavis addressing them.

The MLAs went to Vidhan Bhavan, about two kilometres away, for the session directly from the hotel.

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