Supreme Court faults Maharashtra governor and speaker, but won't restore Uddhav Thackeray government [11.5.2023]

The Supreme Court on Thursday said Maharashtra’s governor "erred" in ordering that Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government face a floor test on June 30 last year. It, however, said it would not restore the government since the Sena leader resigned before the floor test. The court also ruled out disqualifying the 16 rebel MLAs, including Eknath Shinde, of the Sena, and left the decision for the Maharashtra assembly speaker.

There is, therefore, no immediate danger to the stability of the coalition government in Mumbai that Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis helm, ruling out any further speculation on whether the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) might split to rescue it.

But Thackeray and his supporters would count a moral win in the five-judge constitution bench of the apex court faulting the governor in ordering a floor test as it did the Maharashtra assembly speaker in accepting the rebel faction's pick for the party whip. After the verdict, Thackeray said Shinde should resign as chief minister just as he had done.

Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis expressed "complete satisfaction" over the Supreme Court's verdict. "Those who were speculating that this government will collapse today have been silenced (by the verdict)," he said, adding that he will comment on the decision in detail along with Shinde.

Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena (UBT) said if the top court has observed that Sunil Prabhu of the Uddhav Thackeray faction of Sena remains the official whip, then 16 rebel MLAs stand disqualified. He said Speaker Rahul Narwekar cannot follow the official whip. Raut also asserted that since the process of formation of the government was illegal, the Shinde government is illegal. "Sunil Prabhu remains the official whip of Shiv Sena as per SC's observations, so rebel MLAs stand disqualified," Raut said.

In a unanimous verdict on a batch of pleas related to the political crisis that led to the fall of the MVA government, the Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud-led bench held that House speaker's decision to appoint Bharat Gogawale of the Shinde faction as the whip of Shiv Sena was "illegal".

The Supreme Court said the Maharashtra governor did not have sufficient "objective material" to ask Thackeray to prove a majority in the Assembly. But the court said the governor, having erred in ordering a floor test, was justified in inviting Shinde to form government at the behest of the BJP, which was the largest political party in the house" when Thackeray did not face the floor test and quit.

The bench, which also comprised Justices M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P S Narasimha, referred the 2016 Nabam Rebia verdict by a five-judge constitution bench, which relates to the power of speaker on disqualification of MLAs, to a larger bench of seven judges.

In his revised autobiography, Lok Majhe Sangati, released on May 2, NCP chief Sharad Pawar has criticised Thackeray for failing to sense the discontent within his party, questioning his "political acumen". In his memoirs, Pawar also questioned Thackeray's decision to quit as Maharashtra CM without putting up a fight. However, the MVA partners are already looking ahead at the Lok Sabha polls and possibly the Assembly polls, which they believe could get advanced by six months to be held simultaneously with the national elections after their recent success in the agriculture produce marketing committee (APMC) elections. They also believe Thackeray's outreach to Sena supporters is enfeebling the Shinde camp.

On Thursday morning, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav met Thackeray in Mumbai.

11 May 2023