Former Maharashtra CM, ex-Lok Sabha speaker, and Shiv Sena stalwart Manohar Joshi passes away at 86

Fulsome tributes flowed across the national political spectrum as news of Mr. Joshi’s demise filtered in

February 23, 2024 08:41 am | Updated 09:20 pm IST - Pune

Archive picture of Manohar Joshi being welcomed as Speaker of the Lok Sabha by former Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, at the  Parliament House in New Delhi, in 2003.

Archive picture of Manohar Joshi being welcomed as Speaker of the Lok Sabha by former Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, at the Parliament House in New Delhi, in 2003. | Photo Credit: Kamal Narang

Former Maharashtra CM and ex-Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi, who counted among Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s most trusted aides, passed away early Friday, aged 86.

The ailing Mr. Joshi breathed his last at around 3 a.m. at Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital following a cardiac arrest, sources said. His body was kept at his Matunga residence for people to pay their final respects. His funeral was later held at the iconic Shivaji Park in Dadar, where Mr. Joshi was cremated with full state honours.

One of the most recognizable faces of the Shiv Sena during its formative years, Mr. Joshi became the Chief Minister of a non-Congress government for the first time in Maharashtra after the undivided Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) mahayuti coalition came to power in 1995.

It was the late Shiv Sena founder, the towering Bal Thackeray who made Mr. Joshi the CM, with Mr. Thackeray even going on record to state that he firmly held the “remote control” of Maharashtra’s government in his hands regardless of who was the CM. Both Mr. Thackeray and Mr. Joshi were explicitly named in the Srikrishna Commission report as having incited Shivsainiks to violence against Muslims during the 1992–1993 Bombay riots.

Mr. Joshi remained as Maharashtra’s CM from 1995-99, then serving as the Union Heavy Industries Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government at the Centre from 1999-2002.

His political career reached a further high when he became Lok Sabha Speaker, serving between 2002-04.

Despite the looming shadow of Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Joshi managed to carve out his niche as a restrained, well-spoken politician who was affectionately referred to by Shiv Sainiks as ‘Sir’.

In the Lok Sabha, too, his firm conduct at Speaker earned him the moniker ‘Headmaster’.

Fulsome tributes flowed across the national political spectrum as news of Mr. Joshi’s demise filtered in, with PM Narendra Modi stating that he was “pained by Mr. Joshi’s passing away.”

“He was a veteran leader who spent years in public service and held various responsibilities at the municipal, state and national level. As Maharashtra CM, he worked tirelessly for the state’s progress. He also made noteworthy contributions as a Union Minister. During his tenure as the Lok Sabha Speaker, he strove to make our Parliamentary processes more vibrant and participative. Manohar Joshi Ji will also be remembered for his diligence as a legislator, having had the honour of serving in all four legislatures,” the PM said, in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Former CM Uddhav Thackeray cancelled his Buldhana tour on receiving news of Mr. Joshi’s death. He praised Mr. Joshi as a dyed-in-wool Shiv Sainik and a principled leader who never left the party’s side or that of his leader, Bal Thackeray.

“It is very unfortunate. Manohar Joshi had seen many ups and downs in his life but he never left Shiv Sena, he always stayed loyal to the party… When Balasaheb Thackeray was arrested, he was one of those arrested with him. His demise is a big loss to the party,” Mr. Uddhav Thackeray said.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde praised Mr. Joshi’s wide experience as a Parliamentarian, while remarking that in his demise, the “Kohinoor of Bal Thackeray’s ideals” was lost.

In a post on X, Mr. Shinde said, “The Shiv Sena-BJP coalition government was led by ‘Sir’. He had a knack of taking everyone along and respecting roles…I consider it my fortune that I got the opportunity to work under his guidance in Shiv Sena.”

Maharashtra Governor Ramesh Bais hailed Mr. Joshi as the most respected political leader in the State, while remarking that he left his “indelible mark while discharging every role”.

NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar, condoling Mr. Joshi’s death, said that as CM of Maharashtra, Mr. Joshi took everyone along and worked hard for the development of the state.

Shiv Sena (UBT) spokesperson Sanjay Raut said Mr. Joshi was the exemplar of how to run the Lok Sabha without any bias.

“We used to refer to him as ‘Sir’ while Balasaheb Thackeray used to affectionately call Mr. Joshi as ‘Pant’. He was a fighter and an ideal for thousands of Shiv Sainiks who created this party from scratch. He used to be at the forefront of every agitation conducted by the Shiv Sena When Bal Thackeray was arrested on the border [Maharashtra-Karnatka] question [in 1969], Mr. Joshi was at Balasaheb’s side.”

Mr. Joshi remains the only Shiv Sainik, and among a handful of politicians, to have served in every post from corporator (in the Mumbai civic body) to a legislator in both the Maharashtra Council and Assembly, to Chief Minister of the State, and finally to Central Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker. He was also Mumbai’s Mayor between 1976-77.

When Bal Thackeray made Mr. Joshi the CM, there was criticism that a Brahmin was occupying the top post in a state that was dominated by the political weight of the Maratha community.

In a pointed jibe at the BJP, Mr. Raut said that Mr. Joshi had been present in Ayodhya and had performed ‘kar seva’ during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

“Those who claim today [present BJP] what was the Shiv Sena’s contribution in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement should look at Mr. Joshi’s record as a kar sevak,” Mr. Raut said.

Condoling his death, senior BJP leader and party general secretary Vinod Tawde said that it was Mr. Joshi’s chemistry with the top BJP leaders at the time that had helped to smoothen the Sena-BJP relationship.

“Today we have lost a restrained and cultured leader. He was one of the few who served in practically every major post that a politician can aspire to. During the Sena -BJP alliance, the equations between Manohar Joshi and [late BJP leader] Pramod Mahajan were very good,” Mr. Tawde said.

Mr. Joshi had suffered a brain haemorrhage last year and had been out of active politics for some time, particularly at the time of current CM Eknath Shinde’s revolt in 2022 and the acrimonious split in the Sena. 

Just last week, speaking in Kolhapur, Mr. Shinde had accused Uddhav Thackeray of humiliating all old Shiv Sainiks who had dedicated their lives to building the party, especially Mr. Joshi.

At the Kolhapur convention of the Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction, Mr. Shinde had alleged that Mr. Joshi had been humiliated in full public view after he was asked to get off stage during a function of Mr. Uddhav Thackeray.

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