The Maharashtra political crisis took a legal turn on Monday when the Supreme Court extended until 12 July, the time granted by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal to the 16 MLAs belonging to the Eknath Shinde faction to submit their written responses to the disqualification notice.
In court, advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Shinde, argued that Zirwal, the deputy speaker, could not disqualify any member under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, as he himself was facing proceedings.
Supreme Court Justice Surya Kant also questioned how can the “Deputy Speaker be the judge of his own court”. According to law, one cannot be a judge in one's own cause. There is a no trust vote pending against Deputy Narhari Zirwal.
Zirwal, who belongs to Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), has found himself in the middle of the Maharashtra political storm. Here’s a closer look at who he is and his role in the unfolding crisis.
Life and career of Narhari Zirwal
Narhari Zirwal (63) is a tribal leader and a three-time NCP legislator from Dindori in Nashik district.
Currently serving as the Deputy Speaker in the Maharashtra Assembly, he began his political career as an activist for the Janata Dal in the 1980s from his home in Nashik. He later took the electoral plunge and won two terms in the local Panchayat Samiti on the tickets of the Janata Dal as well as the Congress party.
He later joined the NCP and won the Assembly election from Dindori in 2004. In 2009, he lost his seat to a Shiv Sena candidate.
He is known to be a politician with his ear to the ground and has a good grasp of agricultural and tribal issues.
Zirwal is said to be a close confidant of Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar; in fact, he was one of the NCP MLAs who had accompanied Pawar when the latter switched sides and joined hands with Devendra Fadnavis to be sworn in as deputy chief minister in an early morning swearing in ceremony at the Raj Bhavan in 2019. He had also gone to Delhi along with other NCP MLAs but was one of the first to return to the NCP fold.
During the fiasco that had unfolded in the state then, he had told Indian Express, “After my parents, Sharad Pawar is the one who has played a formative role in my life. I can’t betray him. When we realised the fiasco in Maharashtra, I and the other party legislators talked and decided to head back. We called up NCP leaders who assured us that we will be extracted and we managed to leave the hotel on Sunday.”
After the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, Zirwal was appointed the Deputy Speaker while Congress legislator Nana Patole was appointed as Speaker.
Zirwal’s role in current crisis
Zirwal has played a key role in the political crisis that is unfolding between the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and the Eknath Shinde-led group, which is currently housed in a hotel in Guwahati.
This is because Speaker Nana Patole resigned in February 2021 after he was appointed the Congress chief of state and since then, the post is vacant.
In such a case when the Speaker is absent, the Deputy Speaker has the powers and can adjudicate on matters.
He delivered the first jolt to the rebel MLAs by approving the appointment of Uddhav loyalist Ajay Chaudhari as the legislature party leader of Shiv Sena. Later, the party moved before the deputy speaker for the disqualification of Shinde and 15 other MLAs under provisions of anti-defection law. The rebel group does not want Zirwal to take a decision on both the issues.
However, his decision to disqualify MLAs has been questioned by a rebel MLA plea through a plea filed by advocate Abhinay Sharma, saying the deputy speaker cannot disqualify any member under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution during the pendency of his own removal resolution and termed his action in recognising Ajay Choudhary and Sunil Prabhu as Leader and Chief Whip of SSLP as illegal.
With inputs from agencies