In a setback to the Uddhav Thackeray faction, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stop the Election Commission from deciding on Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Eknath Shinde plea that his faction be recognised as the real Shiv Sena, Live Law reported.

A five-judge bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said it would not put a stay order on proceedings of the poll body.

A legal battle ensued between the two factions after the Election Commission, on July 22, directed Thackeray and Shinde to submit documents to prove that their faction has the support of the majority of the party members.

The Thackeray-led faction had challenged the Election Commission proceedings in the Supreme Court on July 26. It had argued that the Election Commission cannot decide on the legitimate leader of the party unless a pending petition on disqualification of 16 Maharashtra MLAs is decided upon.

On the other hand, Shinde challenged the disqualification notices issued against him and 15 other MLAs of his group by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal on June 25.

On August 3, the Supreme Court had directed the poll panel not to take any action on Shinde’s claim. The court had also asked the Election Commission to give reasonable adjournment to the Thackeray group to file its response, considering that the matter is pending before the Supreme Court.

Reacting on the court’s decision, Arvind Sawant, a Shiv Sena MP from the Thackeray faction, told reporters that the verdict was not a matter of setback as the matter of disqualification of the MLAs was still pending in the court, ANI reported.

Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar told reporters that the poll body will apply the “rule of majority” to decide on which faction should be designated the real Shiv Sena, PTI reported.

“There is a set procedure...We will apply the ‘rule of majority’ whenever we are looking at it. This will be done after reading the exact decision [of the court]”.

Arguments in the court

The Thackeray faction had argued that allowing the Election Commission to decide on the real Shiv Sena would impact other pending matters like the disqualification of the MLAs, Bar and Bench reported.

During the hearing, the court observed that the matter hinged upon the ambit of the powers of the Assembly Speaker under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution and the powers of the Election Commission to decide upon who has the rightful claim to the party symbol.

The Tenth Schedule includes anti-defection laws and the powers of the Speaker with respect to such provisions.

Justice Chandrachud had noted during the hearing that a political party has a “much wider configuration” than just its legislative unit, which includes the elected representatives.

Split in the Shiv Sena

Chaos had ensued in the Shiv Sena in June after Shinde and a group of party MLAs rebelled against the former Maharashtra government – a coalition of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.

After more than a week of political drama, the coalition was ousted from power as the Thackeray faction was reduced to a minority in the state Assembly. Shinde was sworn in as the chief minister of Maharashtra on June 30, while the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Devendra Fadnavis took oath as his deputy.