By L S Herdenia
BHOPAL: Using his formidable skills at political management, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, managed to prevent a direct confrontation between the Raj Bhawan and the state government. The state cabinet had cleared an ordinance making drastic changes in the procedure for electing Mayors of municipal corporations and chairpersons of municipal committees and Nagar Panchayats in the state. So far, the chief of urban civic bodies were elected directly by the people. The ordinance proposes indirect election by the corporators. The move was stoutly opposed by the main opposition BJP. A delegation comprising top leaders of the party had met the Governor Lalji Tandon requesting him not to give his assent to the measure.
Meanwhile, a statement by Vivek Tankha, a Congress Rajya Sabha member from the state, infuriated the Governor. Tankha, in a tweet, urged the Governor to clear the ordinance and advised him to follow the ‘Raj Dharma’. The Governor took this unsolicited advice as an affront to his authority and made it clear that he would not append his signature to the document in a hurry. This would have translated into the government being forced to hold civic elections – due in January this year – under the prevalent system.
Nath formulated a strategy to win over the Governor. Without sitting on his prestige, he decided to call on the Governor to apprise him of the situation. After meeting the Governor he told media persons, “Civic elections will be held on time. The Governor will take a decision on the ordinance. Vivek Tankha’s statement is his personal opinion and the government is in no way related to it.”
The chief minister rejected reports of differences between the Raj Bhawan and the state government. “Mine was a routine and cordial meeting with the Governor. We discussed the floods in the state. The ordinance was not discussed,” he said.
Soon after, at a hurriedly-convened press conference, public relations minister PC Sharma said there was no tension between the Governor and the government but he did say that the ordinance was discussed between the Governor and the chief minister. “The chief minister went to the Raj Bhawan to meet the Governor. He discussed the state government’s proposal on election of mayors. The meeting was cordial and the CM clarified the state government’s stand on the ordinance,” said Sharma.
“In the meeting, it was also made clear that Vivek Tankha’s statement is not the government’s official stand. The government has made a proposal and the Governor has to take the final decision on it. Whatever has been said by Tankha is his personal view. The government does not endorse his statement,” Sharma added.
Earlier, two former chief ministers – Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Uma Bharati – met the Governor and urged him to withhold assent to the ordinance.
“The Congress knows very well that it is going to lose the upcoming civic elections. That is why it is trying to impose indirect election of mayors and chairpersons of municipal bodies. The Congress wants to use money and muscle power to grab the positions,” he said.
He said he has urged the Governor and the chief minister to withdraw the amendment. “I request the Governor and chief minister to conduct direct elections to the posts of mayors and municipal heads so that the people can choose their representatives,” he said.
The BJP national vice-president hit out at the Congress for “building political pressure” to get the amendment cleared from the Raj Bhawan.
Ultimately, Kamal Nath succeeded in convincing the Governor, who gave his nod to the ordinance. A Raj Bhawan press release said that Tandon gave his nod after he was convinced by Nath’s justification for the move. “Governor Lalji Tandon granted his approval to the Madhya Pradesh Nagarpalik Vidhi (Sanshodhan) Adhyadesh 2019 on October 8. A day earlier, chief minister Kamal Nath had met the Governor to explain in detail all the aspects of and the objectives behind the changes,” it said.
The Raj Bhawan statement said, “The chief minister (during his meeting) made it clear that the people who tried to pressurise the Governor by turning the issue into a public debate, were acting on their own. The government has nothing to do with them. In a democracy, one should maintain the decorum of a constitutional post,” it said.
The Raj Bhawan statement mentioned that the CM Nath had “made it clear that the state government is committed to maintaining the dignity of constitutional positions.” The Governor gave his approval as he was satisfied with the explanation given by the chief minister, it said, adding that, “the Governor is functioning free from any political pressure.”
“The Governor has a strong opinion that commenting on the discretion of a person holding a constitutional position is violative of constitutional decorum. Governors are supposed to act freely and fairly. Bringing undue pressure to bear upon them, directly or indirectly, is not in keeping with democratic traditions,” the statement said.
It also quoted the Governor as saying that, “The doors of the Raj Bhawan are open to all citizens. Everyone has an equal opportunity of putting up his or her stand before the Governor.”
The Congress welcomed the move while the BJP came out with a guarded reaction. “After the decision by the highest authority, the Governor, it would be improper to comment on the ordinance. However, we will discuss the issue in the party forum to decide on the future course of action. I personally believe that indirect elections would lead to corruption and horse trading,” the leader of opposition in the Vidhan Sabha Gopal Bhargava said.
Madhya Pradesh has 16 municipal corporations, 98 municipal committees and 258 Nagar Panchayats. Direct elections to the posts of the chiefs of these bodies were introduced during the regime of former chief minister Digvijaya Singh. Presently, the BJP controls over 60 per cent of the civic bodies.(IPA Service)