Three weeks ago, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had expressed his desire to resign from the post. On February 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Mumbai and speculation was rife yet again about the Governor’s resignation. On February 12, President Draupadi Murmu accepted his resignation.
Raj Bhavan staff who have served for more than two decades described Koshyari as one of the most hardworking Governors they had seen. But as conscientious as he was in inaugurating institutions, handing out awards, releasing books, and so on, he was equally diligent in keeping up the pressure on the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, as a result of which outspoken leaders like State Congress chief Nana Patole just stopped short of calling him partisan.
Ever since the political turmoil in the wake of the 2019 Assembly election, Raj Bhavan has been more involved in the State’s politics than usual.
The uneasy relationship between Koshyari and the MVA began when he officiated at a very early morning swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan in which Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP was sworn in as Chief Minister and the NCP’s Ajit Pawar as his deputy. But the political understanding between the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, the NCP, and the Congress prevailed and the MVA government was formed.
From then on until last year, the BJP had a single-point programme of destabilising the government and regaining power. And in this they enlisted the office of the Governor. The Governor’s office put many hurdles in the way of the MVA. Koshyari had been appointed Governor on September 3, 2019, just about two months before the turmoil.
Hurdles before MVA
Delays by the Governor’s office presented many hurdles to the MVA and turned out to be beneficial for the BJP. One of the earliest such hurdles was the matter of appointing 12 members to the Legislative Council. From January 2021 this list, which had been approved by the State cabinet in November 2020, was pending clearance with the Governor.
At the time, Patole had said: “The BJP will face a major rift if the 12 MLCs are appointed. The fear within the BJP has delayed the appointment for the vacant seats of the legislative Council.” Even Thackeray’s own nomination to the Council was delayed.
Koshyari also took an inordinate interest in matters that seemingly spoke of his societal concerns. One such instance was the reference to an incident in September 2021 when a woman was raped and murdered in a Mumbai suburb. The Governor expressed concern over the safety of women in Maharashtra and said a special session should be held in the House to discuss the safety of women. Uddhav Thackeray shot back with a four-page letter in which he said: “The government is doing its work. So, your suggestion to call for a special session of the Assembly can spark off new arguments. At a time when anti-government persons have been asking for a special Assembly session, the honourable governor too speaking in the same tune and making the same demand is not in line with the system of parliamentary democracy.”
Those who have worked closely with Koshyari said that he has a sense of humour but admitted that some of “his jokes became a disaster”. He spoke of cultural, political and social reformer icons of Maharashtra in a dismissive way, resulting in a State-wide furore. At times it seemed as if the Governor was indeed playing with fire quite deliberately and diverting attention from more pressing issues.
An official who has worked with him said: “His earlier career was blemish free, but he was a shrewd politician and the party used him accordingly. I feel his proximity to the BJP did more damage to him than his proximity to the RSS. He has been used and discarded and is not going out with his head held high.”
But apart from his political activities, Koshyari has earned praise as “an action-oriented person” from who worked with him. “He democratised the institution of Raj Bhavan,” said a source, adding: “Raj Bhavan became a lok bhavan [house of the people] in his time. He never disappointed those who came to see him. Even in the districts, where there would be long queues of people waiting to meet him, he would meet everyone and sometimes help people financially from his own pocket.”
The 81-year-old Koshyari, who was Maharashtra’s 19th Governor, is expected to return to his native Uttarakhand where he is expected to continue to influence politics.