INDIA. Mumbai: Although the court issued harsh reprimands to the current Eknath Shinde-BJP government, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court (SC) led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjay Chandrachud on Thursday refused to reinstate former CM Uddhav Thackeray because he resigned without taking a floor test.
Delivering the judgment after several hearings, the bench comprising CJI Dhananjay Chandrachud, M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli, and P S Narsimha pointed out several irregularities in the formation of the Eknath Shinde-BJP Government, including the role of the then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari in calling for a floor test in a post-haste.
The SC observed that the Speaker, Rahul Narvekar, was wrong in appointing Bharat Gogawale (backed by the Shinde group) as the whip of the Shiv Sena party, and his appointment was illegal. The Speaker was aware of the emergence of two factions in the legislative party on July 3, 2022, yet he appointed a new whip. MLA Sunil Prabhu was already functioning as a whip of the Shiv Sena at that time.
In November 2019, Shiv Sena MLAs unanimously resolved to appoint Thackeray as the party leader and Shinde as the group leader. To hold that it is the legislative party that appoints the whip will mean severance of the umbilical cord with the political party. It signifies that the group of MLAs might disassociate themselves from the political party. However, the bench left the matter of disqualification of 16 MLAs to the incumbent Speaker.
The then Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari erred in ordering a floor test, thinking that Thackeray lost the majority without reasonable ground. A floor test cannot be used to resolve internal party disputes. Governor ought not to have relied on the letter dated June 25, 2022, from the Shinde faction citing security concerns. It did not indicate that Thackeray lost support.
Nothing in the Governor’s communications indicated that the disgruntled MLAs intended to withdraw their support for the government. The opposing faction should have introduced a vote of no confidence. Neither the Constitution nor the law gives the Governor the authority to enter the political arena and intervene in inter-party or intra-party issues. The bench observed that this was an additional issue on which the Governor relied and that such an exercise by the Governor was not permitted by the Constitution.
The assembly was not in session when DCM Devendra Fadnavis, along with 07 MLAs, wrote to the Governor. The opposition parties did not issue any no-confidence motion. Fadnavis should have moved a non-confidence motion against the MVA Government.
The Supreme Court ruled that it could not order Thackeray’s restoration because he resigned without facing the floor test, even if the Governor’s decision to hold the floor test was incorrect and the Speaker was incorrect in choosing the Shinde group whip. If Thackeray had not quit, the status quo may have been restored.
In the meanwhile, the SC referred the matter related to the no-confidence motion against Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal sent by e-mail purportedly by the Shinde faction on June 22, 2022.
It was referred to a larger bench in the light of Nabam Rebia’s judgment for reconsideration of the ruling that a Speaker is disqualified from deciding disqualification petitions against MLAs if there is a pending motion for removal of the Speaker.
Reacting to the judgment, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Anil Parab said that the Shinde government was defeated on moral grounds and should resign.
Parab added, “We will call on the Speaker Rahul Narvekar to decide on Gogawale being disqualified and will urge him to decide the matter within 15 days, or else we will again approach the court.”
Thackeray said that he resigned no sooner he heard about the rebellion in his party and similarly, Shinde should resign on moral grounds, given the SC strictures.
June 20, 2022: Eknath Shinde and 15 Sena MLAS revolt. Shinde is removed from the post of the leader of the Shiv Sena legislature party (SLP) and is replaced with Ajay Chowdhary.
June 21, 2022: Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Narhari Zirwal recognizes the appointment of Choudhary as SLP leader.
June 22, 2022: Shiv Sena MLA Sunil Prabhu issues a Whip asking Shinde and others to attend a meeting organized in Mumbai. Shinde challenged Prabhu’s authority as an SLP leader.
June 25, 2022: Shinde faction receives disqualification notices from Zirwal.
June 26, 2022: The Shinde challenges the notices in the SC.
June 27, 2022: The SC orders a status quo in the matter till July 11.
June 28, 2022: The Governor asks Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the house.
June 29, 2022: Thackeray moved the SC, challenging the floor test. However, given the court’s refusal, he resigns on the same night.
June 30: Shinde and Fadnavis were sworn in as CM and DCM, respectively.
March 11: Shinde Government survives due to SC verdict.