On Uddhav Thackeray challenging an order to prove his majority tomorrow, the Supreme Court asked today how the vote was linked to the disqualification of MLAs.
Maharashtra’s ruling coalition had asked for the disqualification of Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde and 15 MLAs, but they were given time till July 12 to respond to notices served by the Deputy Speaker, whose power to decide has also been questioned.
Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari showed “undue and unholy haste” in ordering Uddhav Thackeray to prove his majority, said Uddhav Thackeray’s team.
It also alleged that the MLAs had “hobnobbed with other parties including the BJP.”
“How does floor test depend on disqualification proceedings? Or the power of the Deputy Speaker? Are those interrelated,” the Supreme Court said.
“If you allow a floor test then you will be possibly allowing people who would be disqualified on July 11,” replied senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing team Thackeray.
“The effect of you extending the time is that Deputy Speaker cannot decide on the disqualification yet. On July 11 your views may or may not change. How can they vote on June 30 if they stood disqualified from June 22 itself?”
He added, “Will heaven fall if a floor test is not conducted tomorrow? Why can’t they wait till July 11. The next Supreme Court hearing?”
Why a vote at this time, when two Nationalist Congress Party MLAs were down with Covid, two Congress MLAs are abroad and the Governor had just recovered from Covid, Mr Singhvi wondered.
Defection, per law, is “sin”, said Mr Singhvi.
“This cuts into roots of democracy. How can somebody who is not part of the pool be allowed to swim in it,” he questioned.
“The governor cannot act on the aid and advice of the leader of opposition. The Chief Minister and the council of ministers was not even consulted,” Mr Singhvi said.
“You would be allowing a person to vote who is not even a member of the assembly. It’s like allowing a person from the street to vote in the floor test.”
As team Thackeray objected to the Governor’s letter asking for the test of strength, the Supreme Court asked whether it was disputing that 34 MLAs were on the rebels’ side.
“Nobody knows the duress under which these MLAs may have been kept,” Mr Singhvi said, commenting that the Governor never called the MLAs to check.
“But why should Governor decide whether 34 MLAs are this side or that side. That is for democracy to decide,” the Supreme Court pointed out.
“These issues (which MLA is on which side) cannot be left to the subjective views of the Governor. It is to be decided on the floor of the house,” the judges said.
The rebels told the Supreme Court that a floor test is not linked to disqualification proceedings at all. “I have seldom seen a party which is so fearful of a floor test,” said NK Kaul, representing team Shinde.
“They are in a hopeless minority within the party and just want to clutch onto power by any means possible,” he said.
“The more you delay a floor test the more damage and violence you cause to the Constitution and a democracy. A floor test is essential to preventing horse trading,” the lawyer asserted.
Shortly after the Governor ordered the Chief Minister to prove his majority this morning, team Thackeray went to the Supreme Court with the argument that Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s order is illegal as 16 rebel MLAs have yet to respond on their possible disqualification.
The Governor ordered the test of strength a day after BJP leaders met him and told him the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition has lost its majority.
Nearly 40 MLAs have deserted Uddhav Thackeray, leaving him in a minority in the party founded by his father, and joined rebel Eknath Shinde over the past week.
The rebels have been hosted by the BJP first in Gujarat, then Assam. They are likely headed to another BJP state, Goa.