Apex Court blames Governor, gives relief to Eknath government
By G Krishna Mohan Rao*
New Delhi: In a major relief to the Eknath Shinde government in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court today said that Uddhav Thackeray cannot be reinstated as the Maharashtra Chief Minister because he resigned from the post. A Constitutional Bench, pronouncing the verdict in a plea seeking disqualification of Shinde faction MLAs, who engineered the fall of the Maha Vikas Agadhi government in Maharashtra, also said that the appointment of the Speaker by the Eknath Shinde camp of the Shiv Sena was illegal as it did not abide by the whip issued by the party.
The Five member Constitutional Bench also ruled that the Governor was at fault as he should not have misused the mechanism of the “floor test” to resolve intra-party differences. However, it said, since former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray voluntarily resigned from his post, the Eknath Shinde government would face no threat as of now.
The five-member Constitutional bench, however, referred the case to a larger seven-member Constitution bench. The bench stated that the 2016 Nabam Rabia case, which held that Speaker cannot initiate disqualification proceedings when a resolution seeking his removal is pending, requires reference to a larger bench.
The Supreme Court pronounced that the Governor was at fault as he had no ‘objective material’ to call for a Floor test in the Assembly. Floor tests cannot be used as a medium to resolve inter or intra-party disputes, the court added. The resolution relied on by the government did not indicate that MLAs wanted to withdraw support, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Chandrachud said adding that even if it is assumed that the MLAs wanted to exit the government, they constituted only a faction.
CJI Chandrachud reading out the unanimous judgment said that the issues such as whether a notice to the removal of the Speaker will restrict the powers of the Speaker to issue disqualification notices need examination by a larger bench. The Five member Constitution Bench comprised Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices MR Shah, Krishna Murari, Himachal Kohli and PS Narasimha reserved its verdict on March 16, 2023.
During the hearing, the CJI wondered how to reinstate the Thackeray government even if it finds fault in the Governor’s decision to call for a floor test. This was because, the Bench said, Uddhav Thackeray had accepted that his government is in the minority and then resigned. On the Governor’s role, Chandrachud asked what had suddenly prompted the Governor to take such a decision and whether he had examined why so many party members from the ruling Shiv Sena’ arrived at such a step after enjoying the ‘fruits of power’ for three years. The court also asked about his rationale in announcing a floor test. He suggests that a no-confidence motion could have been brought about instead, by asking the lawmakers to float it.
It may be recalled that in August last year, former chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray approached the Supreme Court after his colleague-turned-rival Eknath Shinde orchestrated a coup by splitting the Shiv Sena and forming a government on his own with the active support of the Bharatiya Janata Party. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had referred the matter to a five-Judge Constitution bench. The five-judge bench led by Chandrachud read out the verdict today by clustering eight petitions filed by both the Sena factions on the issue.
Meanwhile, reacting to the judgement, Uddhav Thackeray today said that his decision to resign at that moment might have been legally wrong but it was the morally right thing to do at that moment. Lambasting the Eknath Shinde government, he said that if the current Maharashtra Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister have any ethics they should resign. Uddhav said that these rebel MLAs betrayed his party and his father’s (Balasaheb Thackeray) legacy.
On the other side, taking a dig at Uddhav Thackeray soon after the Supreme Court verdict, which stonewalled Thackeray’s chances of being reinstated as Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said Thackeray left his ideology for power while his successor Eknath Shinde chose ideology over power. Fadnavis expressed his views this afternoon at a joint press meeting along with Chief Minister Shinde.