Former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and former Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had shared a tumultuous relationship. The unease in their relationship had crept in immediately after the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra in 2019 when the Shiv Sena broke off its decades-old alliance with the BJP and joined hands with new partners, the Congress Party and the NCP, to establish a tripartite government in Maharashtra.
This tension gained monstrous proportions and within seven months of the government formation, there began a letter war between Koshyari and Thackeray. The tension first began when the BJP tried to form a government in 2019 with the help of Ajit Pawar of the NCP even as his uncle and NCP chief Sharad Pawar was trying to stitch together a tripartite coalition in the state. Then the unified Shiv Sena whose chief was Uddhav Thackeray had targeted Koshyari and criticized him for lifting the President’s rule in Maharashtra and swearing in BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as the chief minister along with Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister in an early morning coup.
In April 2020, the first major friction between these two constitutional heads was out in the open when Koshyari refused to accept the recommendation of the state cabinet to nominate Thackeray to the Maharashtra Legislative Council. He was not a member of either the Legislative Assembly or the Legislative Council when he had taken oath as the chief minister. Therefore, it is mandated in the Law that he had to be a member of either House within six months if he had to hold on to the chief minister’s post.
Meanwhile, nine members had retired from the Legislative Council and these seats were vacant. Elections to these seats could not be held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There are 12 persons nominated by the governor to the Legislative Council every six years from different fields such as literature, social service art, education, theatre etc. These 12 seats too were vacant. The cabinet headed by Thackeray had recommended that he should be nominated to the Council as the governor’s nominee. Koshyari refused to follow the recommendations of the cabinet. The impasse between the government and the governor continued. A solution was worked out only after Thackeray had dialled Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Keeping aside the nominations for the 12 seats to be nominated by him, Koshyari wrote to the Election Commission to conduct elections for the nine seats that had fallen vacant due to the retirement of members. All the political parties arrived at a consensus to not contest against each other. While the BJP got four seats, the NCP and the Shiv Sena got two seats each while the Congress Party bagged one seat. Thackeray was elected to the Legislative Council.
The tussle continued. The list of 12 sent to Koshyari to be nominated as his appointees continued to be rejected by him stating that they did not fit the criteria.
In September 2021, when the brutal Sakinaka rape case made headlines. A letter war had erupted between then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. The Governor had in his letter suggested to Thackeray that a two-day special session of the Maharashtra Legislature should be held to discuss atrocities against women. In his reply, Thackeray had listed crimes against women in Delhi where law and order is controlled by the Central Government as well as the other BJP-ruled states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Gujarat. Thackeray had requested the Governor to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to call for a four-day session of Parliament to discuss the crimes.
A BJP delegation led by the Women’s Wing chief Chitra Wagh had met Koshyari and demanded that a special session must be held to discuss the increasing crimes against women. Koshyari’s letter to Thackeray mirrored this demand. In his four-page response, Thackeray had written that the Governor’s decision to support the demand of the Opposition is “threatening Parliamentary democracy”. He had also written that the Governor’s suggestion would “create new disputes”.
In October 2020, there had been a letter war between the then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and the then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on the issue of reopening the temples after the Covid-19 lockdown. Thackeray had then replied that they would be opened when the Covid-19 situation was more conducive.
The then Governor had even taken a tough stand on various issues and differed openly with the government of the day. Koshyari would summon officials and bureaucrats to Raj Bhavan and hold briefings with them. He would directly connect with district collectors etc., via Zoom meetings and take updates regarding the Covid-19 situation in the districts. He would also brief them on the action that needed to be taken. The bureaucrats and the officials were in a fix as they were receiving contradictory instructions from both, the chief minister and the Governor.
When the Thackeray-led government decided against holding the final year examinations for colleges, Koshyari, as the Chancellor of the Universities overruled the decision. The government tried to bring in an ordinance to clip the governor’s powers as the chancellor. Next came an incident with actor Kangana Ranaut, a virulent critic of Thackeray, his government and his governance. The government had swung into motion and the then Shiv Sena ruled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had demolished parts of Ranaut’s office, which the civic body had deemed as “encroachment”. Koshyari had invited Ranaut – also from Uttarakhand as is Koshyari, a former chief minister of that state) – to Raj Bhavan and had a long interaction with her. Thackeray was left fuming.
The tussle between the two reached such a bitter point that when the then senior minister and Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde defected with 40 MLAs reducing the government to a minority. Even as the disqualification petition filed by Thackeray against Shinde and 16 others was pending before the courts, Koshyari asked Thackeray to go in for a floor test to prove his majority. When Thackeray quit before the floor test, Koshyari had invited Shinde to form the state government with the BJP. Thackeray had blamed Koshyari for the fall of the MVA Government.