Disqualification of Maharashtra MLAs Day #3: SC Directs Parties to List out Key IssuesDisqualification Proceedings Against Maharashtra MLAs
On July 20th 2022, a Bench consisting of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli heard the challenge to the disqualification proceedings against 13 MLAs initiated by the Deputy Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued for the Thackeray camp of the Shiv Sena. Senior Advocates Harish Salve, Mahesh Jethmalani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Mr. Eknath Shinde and the rebel MLAs.
The Maharashtra-Shiv Sena political crisis began on June 21st, 2022, when a faction of the Shiv Sena comprising over 11 party members, led by Mr. Eknath Shinde, went missing. They subsequently refused to attend an emergency party meeting called by the party chief and then Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray.
On June 29th, 2022 Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray resigned, following a Supreme Court Order refusing to stay a floor test called by Mr. Shinde. On June 30th, 2022, Mr. Eknath Shinde was sworn in as the new Chief Minister. The Court granted the Eknath Shinde-led faction time until July 12th to file a response to the disqualification notice sent by the Deputy Speaker. On July 3rd, 2022, the newly appointed Speaker, Rahul Narvekar, reinstated Mr. Shinde as the legislature party leader and recognised Mr. Bharat Gogawale as the Chief Whip of the Shiv Sena. On July 4th, 2022, the Shinde faction called for a trust vote and filed disqualification proceedings against the Thackeray faction for refusing to comply with the newly appointed Chief Whip’s directions.
A slew of petitions has since been filed by the Shinde and Thackeray factions before the Supreme Court over the issues surrounding the political crisis brewing in Maharashtra. Today, the Court heard Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal’s request for urgent mentioning of all the petitions filed in relation to the disqualification proceedings.
Is Splitting Within a Party the Same as Defecting?
Chief Justice N.V. Ramana sought clarifications from both the parties on how the Tenth Schedule would apply to the present instance. Defection refers to when a member of a legislature abandons or leaves the political party, after being elected to the legislature under the ticket of that party. Para 3 of the Tenth Schedule stated that when a faction (of a minimum of ⅓ of the party members) splits within a political party, it would not amount to defection. With the Constitution Ninety-First Amendment Act, 2003, Para 3 was removed.
Mr. Kapil Sibal, arguing for the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena, stated that the removal of Para 3 means that the rebel MLAs have no protection under the Tenth Schedule. Before the Ninety-First Amendment, they may have claimed that their rebellion amounted to a split. That exception no longer exists.
Mr. Harish Salve, arguing for Mr. Eknath Shinde disagreed. He stated that the Para 3 argument is ‘irrelevant’ in the present case. Para 2 clarifies that defection occurs when a member voluntarily gives up his membership, or when they refuse or vote contrary to the direction of the political party without permission. Mr. Salve argued that the rebel MLAs did not separate from the party in the manner mentioned under Para 2. They merely appointed another leader to the same party. Their actions do not merit disqualification, and there was no question arising out of the removal of Para 3.
Mr. Salve: Inner-party Democracy is ‘Throttled’ with Disqualification Proceedings
Mr. Salve insisted that the Deputy Speaker initiated disqualification proceedings when there was no indication of defection by the rebel MLAs. He pointed out that ‘the election by Shiv Sena of a Chief Minister of the Shiv Sena’ was being considered defection.
Further, Mr. Salve stated that if there is disaffection within a party, members of the party may express desire to choose another leader for themselves—they had an inalienable right to protest. Mr. Salve expressed concern that through the present challenge, the Court would be asked to bring back a party leader who did not have the confidence of the members of the party.
Mr. Singhvi: Inorganic Majority Claimed by the Shinde Faction
Mr. Singvi, arguing for the Uddhav Thackeray faction, took the Court through the way the former Deputy Speaker Mr. Narhari Zirwal was removed. The ‘defecting faction’ sent a motion of no-confidence to Mr. Zirwal via email one day before travelling to Guwahati. Mr. Singhvi emphasised that the email was from an unauthorised source, which the Deputy Speaker refused to accept.
Mr. Singvi concluded that everything that followed—appointment of a new Deputy Speaker by the Shinde faction, call for floor test, and insistence of the Shinde faction’s majority—was invalid. The Shinde faction are committing the ‘constitutional sin’ of defecting from their political party by creating a mirage of majority.
Constitution Bench Considered
The Bench directed the parties to submit a list of issues that they intend to argue. Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, careful not to indicate preference to either of the Shiv Sena factions, stated that there was a lack of clarity on the consequences of removal of Para 3, which dealt with splitting within a party. Culling out of the issues would assist the Court in deciding whether a larger Bench may have to be constituted to interpret the bigger questions on defection law.
The matter will be listed next in the first week of August 2022.