Maharashtra Political Crisis Day #5: Sr. Adv. Sibal Argues Shinde Faction Does Not Represent Shiv SenaDisqualification Proceedings Against Maharashtra MLAs
Today, the 5-Judge Constitution Bench continued to hear arguments from Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who is representing the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena. Mr. Sibal argued that the Eknath Shinde faction did not represent the larger political party and repeatedly acted against the party’s interests.
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.
Mr. Sibal: Documents Show Political Party Hold Authority Over Legislature Party in Matters of Appointment
The veteran lawyer and Member of Parliament drew the Bench’s attention to a November 2019 letter addressed to the Speaker of the Assembly. The letter notified the Speaker of Mr. Thackeray’s appointment as the president of the Shiv Sena which made him the representative for the Shiv Sena as a whole. He then appointed Mr. Shinde as ‘group leader’ and Mr. Sunil Prabhu’s appointment as Chief Whip.
Mr. Sibal then addressed the Shinde faction’s decision to ignore the notice for an urgent meeting issued by the Chief Whip on June 22nd, 2022. The Whip issues instructions on behalf of the larger political party. Ignoring these instructions is a ground for disqualification. Further, despite only representing the party in the State Legislature, the Shinde faction issued their own notice for the removal of the Deputy Speaker (Acting Speaker at the time) and for the appointment of a new Chief Whip.
Allowing this, argued Mr. Sibal, would have disastrous consequences. If a majority of the MLAs in a Legislature decide to unilaterally appoint a new leader, they can override the decisions of the larger political party. This is entirely ‘unworkable’ and ‘unheard of in any democracy’. Individual MLAs cannot act as separate entities in the Assembly. They must act in the interests of the party as a whole.
In order to substantiate this obligation further, Mr. Sibal highlighted the role played by the Chief Whip. As a party appointee, their job is to instruct MLAs on the position of the party when dealing with issues in the Legislative Assembly. The MLAs are bound to follow the instructions of the Whip and cast their votes accordingly. However, the Shinde faction completely disregarded the Whip’s instructions during the trust vote held on July 4th, 2022. The Whip had instructed them to vote against confirming Eknath Shinde as Chief Minister.
Mr. Sibal then cast aspersions on the genuineness of the Eknath Shinde factions actions. He claimed that none of their documentation referred to any party meetings or specific grievances with Mr. Thackeray. The push to break away from the Shiv Sena came entirely unprompted.
The Bench will continue hearing the Thackery faction’s arguments tomorrow.