The Supreme Court on Thursday held that former Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had erred in deciding that the Uddhav Thackeray government had lost its majority after a group of Shiv Sena MLAs led by his rival Eknath Shinde revolted in June, Bar and Bench reported.

However, a five-judge Constitution bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said that it cannot restore the Maha Vikas Aghadi government as Uddhav Thackeray resigned as the chief minister without facing a floor test.

On June 29, Thackeray had resigned as the chief minister and the Maha Vikas Aghadi comprising the Shiv Sena – then led by Thackeray – the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress fell hours after the Supreme Court refused to stay the vote of no confidence. Shinde rebelled against Thackeray, claiming to have the support of 39 of the 55 Shiv Sena MLAs and 10 Independent legislators. Koshyari had later invited him to form the new government.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court held that Koshiyari’s decision to call for the floor test was erroneous as he had “no objective material” to doubt the confidence in the Thackeray government.

“Even if it is assumed that the [Shinde-led] MLAs wanted to exit the government, they constituted only a faction,” Chandrachud observed, according to Live Law. “Floor test cannot be used to resolve internal party disputes.”

The Supreme Court was hearing a batch of petitions filed by both the Thackeray and Shinde factions. Uddhav Thackeray had sought the disqualification of Shinde and 15 other MLAs who split from the Shiv Sena and went on to from the government with support from the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Thackeray faction had also challenged the decision of Koshiyari to call for the trust vote and Shinde’s swearing-in as the chief minister.

Shinde had approached the court against the disqualification notices issued by Narhari Zirwal, the deputy Speaker at the time, to MLAs from his group.

The verdict on this matter hinged on the Nabam Rebia judgement of the Supreme Court from 2016. In this case, the Supreme Court had held that Rebia, who was then the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker, was ineligible to decide on disqualification petitions till a motion seeking his removal was completed.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court decided to refer the validity of the Nabam Rebia judgement to a larger bench, Bar and Bench reported.

On another related matter, the judges held that Koshiyari’s decision to appoint Bharat Gogawale of the Shinde faction as the whip of Shiv Sena was illegal, PTI reported.

During the political drama in Maharashtra, the Shinde group had recommended Gogawale as the whip, who had directed all Shiv Sena MLAs to vote in favour of the no confidence motion. Meanwhile, Thackeray-nominated whip Sunil Prabhu had asked the legislators to vote against the motion. Koshiyari had recognised Gogawale as the whip.

Shinde should resign, says Thackeray

At a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Thackeray said that in light of the court’s verdict, Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis should resign from their posts if they have “any morals left”.

He added that it was not tenable for him to have faced the floor test. “It’s true that I resigned and that may have been wrong on our part,” Thackeray said. “But what the rebels did was wrong too. How can I face a floor test against those who broke our trust? So, this wasn’t acceptable to me.”

The former chief minister also said that the verdict showed that Koshiyari’s actions were wrong. “One question is, what is the punishment for the governor who has since left office?” he asked.

Previous hearings

At an earlier hearing on March 16, the Supreme Court had asked the Thackeray camp how it could reinstate a chief minister who had not faced a floor test. Chief Justice Chandrachud said it would be like reinstating a government that had acknowledged that it was in a minority.

The Thackeray faction argued that the new government was formed because the court on June 27 extended the time limit for the Shinde-led group to file responses to the disqualification notices. It also referred to the court’s order on June 29 allowing a floor test.

The Shinde-led faction, on the other hand, argued that Koshiyari had no option but to call for a floor test as support to the Thackeray-led government had been withdrawn. It also argued that the Speaker could not go into which faction of the Shiv Sena represented the real party, as the subject fell within the realm of the Election Commission.