Is Governor Koshyari turning into a liability for BJP? Party irked after yet another row

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Bhagat Singh Koshyari was appointed the governor of Maharashtra in September 2019 and since then he has frequently courted controversies, a trait that is turning into a major headache for the BJP.

The latest controversy Koshyari finds himself embroiled in has seen even the top BJP leadership in the state distance itself from the governor. Koshyari on November 19 said at a function at Dr BR Ambedkar Marathwada University at Aurangabad that 17th-Century warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji was an icon of the “olden days” and drew parallels with Ambedkar and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, whom he referred to as “icons of modern times”. This sparked a political firestorm, with Opposition parties such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Congress, and the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction of the Shiv Sena calling for his removal.

Aware that any attempt to bail out Koshyari might backfire for the party, BJP leaders refused to get dragged into defending him and hailed Shivaji’s life and legacy. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis — whose wife Amruta incidentally came out in the governor’s support on Friday — said after the controversy flared up, “As long as the sun and the moon are there, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj will live. If we have to talk in the present context, Shivaji Maharaj is our hero.”

Many in the state BJP believe that the Centre should look into the governor’s conduct and worry that if he continues, Opposition parties will always have a stick to beat it with. It has left many in the party exasperated as the state is set to enter a crucial stretch of politicking beginning with the civic body elections and then the all-important Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2024.

A senior BJP functionary said, “When a person holds a Constitutional post, it is best to avoid controversial remarks. Today, nobody doubts Koshyari’s intention. We are sure he holds Shivaji in the highest regard, or, his comment on Mumbai was not against Marathis. But where was the need to comment at all?”

Koshyari and controversies

This is not the first time Koshyari has found himself in the middle of a raging controversy.

In July, he rubbed people the wrong way saying, “If Gujaratis and Rajasthanis had left Mumbai there would have been no money left.” Though he apologised for his comments later, the damage was done. Mumbai was the bone of contention during the creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat and to keep the city in Maharashtra, the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement was launched in the 1950s. Almost 105 people were martyred during the struggle.

In March, Koshyari drew flak after commenting on the marriage of iconic social reformers Savtribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule. “Savitribai was married off when she was 10 years old. Her husband Jyotiba was 13 years age. Imagine what the boy and girl would have been doing after marriage. What would they have been thinking?”

The month before, while trying to explain the significance of gurus in the lives of their disciples, Koshyari made another comment about Shivaji that infuriated people. He said that without philosopher-poet Samarth Ramdas no one would have known Shivaji. “Who would have known about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had there not been for his guru Samarth (Ramdas)?”

Following the latest controversy, former BJP MP Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje, who is a descendant of Shivaji, said, “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is a legend. He is the guiding force and inspiration for past, present and future.”

The BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Udayanraje Bhosale from the royal clan of Satara said he had written to PM Narendra Modi and President Droupadi Murmu, asking them to recall Koshiyari. Bhosale, who is the 13th direct descendant of Shivaji, has threatened to “take action” if action is not taken against Koshyari by November 28.