In line to be Cong state chief, Nana Patole steps down as Assembly Speaker

Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Nana Patole on Thursday stepped down from his post, ahead of his expected appointment as the state Congress president replacing Balasaheb Thorat.

Patole, the MLA from Sakoli, handed over his resignation letter to Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal. The vacancy in the House has created a new scramble between the constituents of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

According to sources, both Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar are upset that Shiv Sena and NCP were not consulted by the Congress before Patole resigned.

The development, which comes ahead of the crucial Budget Session of the state legislature, will necessitate a fresh election for the Speaker’s post. While the post-poll coalition holds the majority in the House, the BJP is the single largest party in the legislature.

Sources said that Thackeray even expressed his displeasure to Patole and senior state Congress leaders during a meeting at the Sahyadri guest house in Mumbai before he tendered his resignation.

When contacted, Shiv Sena MP and chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut said, “Indeed, the chief minister has not liked Patole resigning as the Speaker. The CM feels that when things are going smoothly for the three-party government, there was no need to disturb it.”
“Instead of focussing on governance, now a few days will be wasted on getting a candidate elected. The three parties will have to do

everything possible get a new candidate elected as the Speaker,” he added.

Raut denied that the Speaker’s post will now go to the Sena. “As per the earlier agreement, Speaker’s post is for the Congress. But the final decision will be taken by the leaders of the three parties.”

In New Delhi, NCP president Sharad Pawar said that he was not consulted by the Congress about Patole’s resignation. “The Speaker’s post belongs to the alliance. Patole has conveyed to all of us that he has stepped down for his party. He has decided to take on party responsibilities. This is between him and the Congress.”

He, however, went on to add: “The Speaker’s post is now open for negotiations. A vacancy has been created. All parties can now discuss the issue. We will see after discussions.”

As per the power sharing formula finalised between the three parties before coming together to form the government, the Congress, with the least number of seats in the Assembly among the allies, was allotted 12 ministerial berths and the Speaker’s post. The NCP, which has 54 seats, had cornered 16 ministerial berths including the deputy chief minister’s post and the deputy Speaker’s post in the Assembly. Sena, with 56 seats, had bagged the chief minister’s post and 15 ministerial berths.

Pawar’s jibe over the Speaker’s post being open for negotiations is being seen as a pre-emptive strike to counter Congress’ bid of trading the post with Sena for sharing the deputy CM’s post with NCP.

Sources said that NCP is unwilling to share the deputy CM’s post, a demand it had thwarted even the last time the Congress brought it up a year ago.

Ajit Pawar, when asked, made his unwillingness for a shared role very clear. “There is no truth in these reports (about such a proposal). When the MVA was formed a year ago, Soniaji (Gandhi), Pawarsaheb and Uddhavji had finalised the sharing formula. We are working as per the same formula,” he said.

Wary that any change in the power sharing formula may upset the government’s stability, even Sena is said to be unwilling to entertain such a bargain.

After stepping down, Patole told mediapersons outside Vidhan Bhavan, “The government is run by a three-party alliance. Our senior leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, will sit together and formulate the next course of action.”

On his resignation, Patole said, “The high command has asked me to resign and as a loyal party worker, I have abided by it.”

Known for his confrontational brand of politics, Patole declined to comment on what his next responsibility in the party would be. “I plan to tour the state and speak out against the three black farm laws that have been brought in by the Union government. We have a situation where farmers are sitting out in the cold protesting and on the other hand, we have a PM who calls himself a chowkidar, painting false dreams. I will participate in the farmers’ agitation and create awareness about the problems these law will bring.” ‘

While Patole’s camp is also pitching for a ministerial berth for him, sources in the Congress said that this appeared unlikely unless a current party minister was asked to step aside.

Patole, who hails from the OBC Kunbi community, is a four-time MLA from both Congress and BJP. He was elected as an MP in 2014 on a BJP ticket but had a fallout with the party after criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, forcing his return to the Congress in December 2017.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he had unsuccessfully contested against Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Subsequently, he went on to win from the Sakoli Assembly constituency in the 2019 Assembly elections on a Congress ticket.