In a shock move, Maharashtra’s Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Monday offered to resign from his post.
In a series of tweets from his official Twitter account, Koshyari said he had conveyed his desire to be relieved of all political responsibilities to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said that wanted to “spend the rest of his life in study, meditation and contemplation”.
Observers noted that his resignation would have to be approved by the president. It is not known whether he has also sent a letter to her.
This offer to resign comes in the wake of a series of controversies the governor has been involved in. Koshyari has frequently delivered controversial comments around Maharashtrian icons such as Shivaji and the Phules as well as been involved in public spats with the state government. At times, even state Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have called for his ouster, aware that his comments could be seen as hurting the party among Maharashtrian voters.
A controversial tenure
In November, Koshyari had said BR Ambedkar and Union minister Nitin Gadkari are modern icons instead of 17th-century Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who he labelled as an icon of “olden days”.
“Earlier, when you would be asked who is your icon – Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi used to be the answers,” Koshyari said. “Whereas in Maharashtra, you need not look elsewhere [because] there are so many icons here … While Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is of olden times, there are icons such as Ambedkar and Nitin Gadkari in modern times.”
Koshyari’s comment about Shivaji, which many saw as the governor relegating the Maratha ruler to the past, had irked leaders across the political spectrum. Many demanded the governor to be immediately recalled.
This resulted in the members of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition – the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party – holding a joint rally in Mumbai to call for Koshyari’s ouster.
So controversial were the governor’s statements about Shivaji that even the ruling BJP was forced to seek Koshyari’s ouster. BJP Member of Parliament Udayanraje Bhosale, who is a descendant of Shivaji and holder of the Chhatrapati title, wrote to President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding Koshyari’s removal.
The BJP’s coalition partner, the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction, also criticisedKoshyari’s comments.
In July, Koshyari was forced to apologise for his comments crediting Gujaratis and Rajasthanis for Mumbai’s position as India’s leading business centre. “Sometimes I tell people in Maharashtra that if Gujaratis and Rajasthanis are removed from here – particularly Mumbai and Thane – then you will have no money left with you,” Koshyari had said. “You call Mumbai the financial capital, but if the people of these states are not here, then it won’t be called the financial capital.”
This comment created a controversy, given the long history of ethnic politics in Mumbai city. Koshyari’s comments drew widespread criticism from the Opposition as well as from the BJP.
In March, Koshyari also stirred a hornet’s nest by questioning the marriage of social reformers Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule. “Savitribai was married off when she was ten years old,” Koshyari said, in a bemused tone amid bursts of laughter. “And her husband [Jyotiba] was 13 years old. Now imagine, what would the boy and girl have been doing after marriage? What would they have been thinking?”
The Phules are revered not only within Maharashtra but also by the anti-caste movement across the country.
The Congress castigated Koshyari for the remarks. “...It is Maharashtra’s misfortune that it got a governor who does not have a sense of what to say when,” it said.
In 2020, the governor was involved in a politically-charged public correspondence with Uddhav Thackeray, who was then chief minister, with Koshyari asking if the latter had become “secular”. Thackeray, whose party is among the Hindutva proponents, had countered Koshyari, declaring that his beliefs do not need his certification.
Created a politicised Raj Bhawan
Koshyari is a long time associate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organisation of the BJP. He was a state minister in Uttarakhand before serving as the hill state’s chief minister for a year from 2001. He later became the chief of the state BJP unit and the Leader of Opposition in Uttarakhand’s Assembly. He has also been a member of both Houses of Parliament.
Beyond the controversies triggered by his comments as the governor, his constant run-ins with Maharashtra’s Maha Vikas Aghadi government, which held power between November 2019 and June 2022, are seen as a prominent example of a broader trend of tussles between governors and Opposition-ruled state governments unfolding across the country.
In December 2021, Koshyari was accused by the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government of blocking 12 nominations to the Legislative Council for more than a year and stalling crucial elections for the Assembly Speaker’s position. Even then, coalition leaders, including Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, had complained to the prime minister about Koshyari’s manner of functioning.
In November 2019, amid weeks of post-election political maneuvering in the state, Koshyari had sparked the ire of the Maha Vikas Aghadi for his decision to invite the BJP and rebel Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar to form the government in the middle of the night.