Maharashtra Political Crisis Day #11: SG Mehta Argues Floor Test Decision Was CorrectDisqualification Proceedings Against Maharashtra MLAs
Judges: D.Y. Chandrachud CJI, M.R. Shah J, Krishna Murari J, Hima Kohli J, P.S. Narasimha J
Today, the Constitution Bench heard arguments from the Governor of Maharashtra, represented by Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta. He argued that the Governor had no choice but to call for the floor test—a decision which led to the resignation of then Chief Minister uddhav Thackeray. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Thackeray faction, began presenting his closing arguments.
On June 21st, Shiv Sena party member Mr. Eknath Shinde, went missing, along with several Shiv Sena MLAs. On the same day, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray called an emergency party meeting which the rebel MLAs refused to attend. The Shiv Sena removed Mr. Eknath Shinde as the Legislature-Party leader. Mr. Shinde responded claiming that he had the support of over 40 MLAs, and represented a significant portion of the party. He further said that, with a dwindling group of supporters, Mr. Thackeray was no longer the party’s chosen representative.
On June 24th, 2022, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray urged the Deputy Speaker to begin disqualification proceedings against the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs, including Mr. Eknath Shinde, for defecting from the Shiv Sena. On the same day, two independent MLAs moved a ‘no confidence’ motion against the Deputy Speaker Mr. Zirwal, stultifying his power to decide on Shinde’s disqualification.
The next day (June 25th, 2022), Mr. Shinde’s faction of the Shiv Sena challenged the disqualification proceedings before the Supreme Court on two grounds. On June 27th, 2022, a Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala issued an unusual Order, staying the disqualification proceedings.
On June 28th, 2022, the Shinde faction requested the Governor of Maharashtra, Mr. Bhagat Singh Koshyari to direct a floor test in the Assembly. Mr. Koshyari agreed to conduct the floor test on June 30th, 2022. Immediately, the floor test was challenged by the Thackeray faction in the Supreme Court. After four hours of arguments, on June 29th, 2022, the Supreme Court refused to stay the floor test. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray resigned within the hour, making way for the Shinde faction to consolidate power.
The Thackeray faction argued that the Shinde faction’s actions—disregard for the party Whip, appointment of a new Deputy Speaker, call for a floor test, and insistence of the Shinde faction’s majority—were all acts of defection.
SG Mehta: Material Placed Before Governor Justifies Floor Test Decision
The Solicitor General submitted three documents which informed the Governor’s decision to call for a floor test on June 30th, 2022.
First, a resolution signed by the Shinde faction on June 21st, 2022 reaffirming Eknath Shinde’s leadership of the Shiv Sena in the Maharashtra Legislature. The Thackeray faction had previously removed him as a party leader after the Shinde faction refused to attend a party meeting on.
Second, a letter signed by 48 MLAs (including MLAs from outside the Shinde faction) sent to the Governor. They claimed that other Shiv Sena MLAs publicly threatened their lives and that their families were at risk.
Lastly, a letter addressed to the Governor from the Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, Mr. Devendra Fadnavis (Bharatiya Janata Party). Mr. Fadnavis claimed that the Shinde factionhad ideological differences with the rest of the party led by Mr. Thackeray. This stemmed from their decision to break their pre-poll alliance with the BJP and form a new alliance with the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for form a majority.
Mr. Mehta argued that these materials showed a clear rift in the Shiv Sena and indicated that the Uddhav Thackeray government had lost the majority in the house. The Governor was duty bound to conduct a floor test. However, CJI D.Y. Chandrachud said that the only possible material the Bench can consider was the resolution. The threats to the MLAs were irrelevant as the State Government immediately made a statement assuring the Shinde faction of their safety. The letter from Mr. Fadnavis was wholly irrelevant according to the Bench.
CJI Chandrachud also questioned how the Governor could have called for the floor test when the Shinde faction was claiming it was still a part of the Shiv Sena. The faction did not officially announce any plans to ally with another party, so the Governor had no reason to believe the Uddhav Thackeray government had lost the majority. Further, the Bench pointed out that the Shinde faction has other recourses available to them. In-house solutions were available, such as removing Mr. Thackeray from his position as party leader through an internal vote.
Sr. Adv. Sibal: Numerical Majority Cannot Be The Sole Factor To Decide Who Forms The ‘Real’ Shiv Sena
Mr. Sibal, leveraging his own wealth of experience in the Legislature, began by firmly stating that MLAs in the house represent their party and hold no other identity. This is based on the understanding that political parties lead the government, not groups of individual legislators. Therefore, the Governor cannot recognise groups of rebelling MLAs even if they form a majority in the party at the legislature (like the Shinde faction in the present case). The Governor can only recognise alliances of political parties and call for a trust vote based on these alliances.
The Bench will continue hearing arguments from Mr. Sibal tomorrow.