According to Plato, democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike. 75 years ago, the people of Maharashtra had a taste of democracy. 75 years ago, one of the oldest bicameral legislatures, the Maharashtra Legislature came into existence. 75 years down the line, although the state's geography and its demographics have changed; the process of democracy and electing people's representatives has only just strengthened. Maharashtra Legislature, which is celebrating its platinum jubilee this year, stands witness not only of the social changes but also the constitutional developments in India.
The history of Maharashtra's Legislature is as interesting and varied as the state's diverse nature. In the late 1930s, Maharashtra was just a small part of the 'Bombay Presidency' province which also included present-day state of Gujarat, Pakistan's Sindh province and the British territory of Aden in Yemen. After the Government of India Act 1935, which envisaged a federal type of government; elections were held in 1937 to form provincial governments. The Indian National Congress won the elections in Bombay. Balasaheb Gangadhar Kher became the first Chief Minister (then called the Prime Minister). At that time the Bombay Assembly had a total strength of 175 members. The first session of this august assembly was held on 19th July, 1937 in Pune's Council Hall. The first session of the upper house, the legislative council was held a day later on July 20, 1937. As part of the freedom movement, in the year 1939 all Congress ministries in British Indian provinces resigned and Bombay was placed under Governor's rule. It was only in the year 1946 that elections were once again held in Bombay. This time too, Congress won and formed the government under Mr. Kher who continued as Chief Minister even after India's independence till 1952.
By this time the numerical strength of the lower house rose to 233. In a unique and first of its kind incident, India's first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had addressed a special session of the state legislature on October 6, 1949 at Council Hall, Pune. In that historic speech, Panditji had warned that however important a state's independence and development may be, it should never overshadow India's unity. He had asked the people of Maharashtra to develop a modern approach. He had asked his countrymen to alter themselves and walk in line with the ever changing and developing world.
In a unique coincidence of sorts, those members who had been elected to the state legislature in 1946 had to take an oath of membership not just once but three times! The first time in 1946, the Kher government took the oath in the name of the King of England and the Badshah of Hindustan. The second time, in 1947, the Kher government took the oath of membership in the name of India. The last time, in 1950, the members swore true allegiance to the sovereign constitution of India. By 1952, the state legislature had become a 316-member body.
In 1956, following the reorganization of states on linguistic basis, the State of Bombay was significantly enlarged expanding eastward to incorporate the Marathi-speaking Marathwada region of Hyderabad, the Marathi-speaking Vidarbha region of southern Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarati-speaking Saurashtra and Kutch. The state was then widely referred as Maha Dwibhashi Rajya, meaning the great bilingual state. On 1st November, 1956 Yashwatrao Chavan became the first and the only Chief Minister of this bilingual state. During its five year tenure, the legislature created a record by debating the States Reorganisation Bill for five days.
The states reorganization bill itself later led to a rather tumultuous turn of events. In 1960, following widespread protests, the bilingual State of Bombay was bifurcated into two new States of Maharashtra and Gujarat by the Bombay Reorganisation Act, 1960. The present State of Maharashtra came into being on 1st May 1960. This time however, the members were saved from the prospect of an election as the erstwhile bilingual state had been demarcated and those members who were elected in the 1957 elections continued as members of the state legislature and thus Yashwatrao Chavan became the first Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
By this time, Mumbai had become the seat of power and Pune had slowly receded from the political hullabaloo. Nagpur was named as the auxiliary capital of the newly formed state. The Maharashtra government decided to hold the budget and the monsoon session of the legislature in Mumbai, while the winter session was to be held in Nagpur. The tradition continues till date.
The budget and the monsoon session of the legislature are held in Vidhan Bhavan, situated in the bustling business district of Nariman Point in South Mumbai. The building was inaugurated by former Prime Minister, the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, on April 19, 1981. Till then, the sessions were held in the old Legislature building near the Gateway of India which today houses the State police headquarters.
Currently, Vidhan Parishad, the upper house or the legislative council is a 78 member body. Its Chairman is Shivajirao Deshmukh. Leader of Opposition is Pandurang Phundkar.
On the other hand, Vidhan Sabha, the lower house or the legislative assembly is a 289 member body, including a nominated member. The life of the Legislative Assembly is five years, unless dissolved earlier. The present speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly is Dilip Walse Patil. Prithviraj Chavan is the Chief Minister while Eknath Khadse is the opposition leader.
In the last 75 years, the Maharashtra legislature has passed many important laws; some were pioneering enough to be adopted by the whole nation. Here is a small list...
- Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti Act
- Drugs (Control) Act, Bombay
- Khadi and Village Industries Act, Bombay
- Co-operative Societies Act, Maharashtra
- Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act, Maharashtra
- Felling of trees (Regulation) Act, Maharashtra
- Mathadi, Hamal and other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act, Maharashtra
- Lokayukta an Up-Lokayuktas Act, Maharashtra
- Empoyment Guarantee Act, Maharashtra
- Prohibition of Ragging Act, Maharashtra
- Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act,
- Devadasi System (Abolition) Act, Maharashtra
- Non-biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, Maharashtra
- Bill providing 50% reservation for women in panchayats and zilla parishads, April 2011
STALWARTS AND LUMINARIES
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar once said that a great man is different from an eminent one in that he is ready to be the servant of the society. Many such public servants including Dr. Ambedkar himself were members of the Bombay Province when it came into existence in 1937. Morarji Desai, Yashwantrao Chavan, Sharad Pawar, , Manohar Joshi, and Vilasrao Deshmukh have been some of the Chief Ministers who have proceeded from the Maharashtra Assembly towards the Indian Parliament. Opposition Leaders in Maharashtra Assembly like Gopinath Munde, Prabha Rao and Prathibha Devising Patil have also made their mark on the national stage. Dattatraya Kashinath Kunte, Sayaji Lakshman Silam, Shivraj Patil, Madhukar Chaudhari and Sharad Dighe have been some of the eminent Speakers of the Maharashtra Assembly.
The legislative council too had its fair share of stalwarts and luminaries. People like V.S. Page and Lokmanya Tilak's great grandson, Jayant Shridhar Tilak were its chairman. Educationists like Prof. G.P. Pradhan and sober personalities like Sena's Sudhir Joshi were elected as leader of opposition. People from diverse fields like lyricist Shantaram Nandgaonkar, Marathi poetess Sarojini Babar, Prof. N.D. Mahanor, lyricist and poet G.D. Madgulkar, Islamic scholar Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, RSS leader M.G. Vaidya and satirist Prof. Ramdas Phutane have been members of the upper house. More recently, Pramod Navalkar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Nitin Gadkari and Dutta Meghe have been some of the eminent members of the Maharashtra legislative Council.
Since the formation of the state, to this date, the late Vasantrao Naik happens to be the only chief minister who ruled the state uninterrupted for 12 years from December 5, 1963 to February 20, 1975. Marotrao Kannamwar was the only chief minister who died on November 24, 1963 while still in office.
PLATINUM JUBILEE CELEBRATIONS
The Maharashtra government had planned huge year long celebrations to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the Maharashtra Legislature. A key initiative was to launch a live telecast of the Question Hour. The state government was also planning to start two separate channels on the lines of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha channels to telecast the assembly's day long proceedings. A series of seminars on issues of relevance to the Legislature were also planned. A commemorative volume and a film to mark 75 years of the Legislature is already in the box. The Maharashtra government has also asked schools and colleges to create awareness of our democratic set-up by holding essay competition, debates and other such programmes. A long set of cultural programmes involving local representatives, leaders and citizens have also been planned. But due to the triple blasts that hit Mumbai on 13th July, all the celebrations have been put on hold.
NISHA MOHAN RANEY,RNU MUMBAI