The Supreme Court on Sunday sought the letter sent by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis to Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, on the basis of which he was invited to form the state government early on Saturday, Live Law reported. The letter supposedly had signatures of support from at least 145 MLAs – the majority mark in the 288-member state Assembly.
The top court also asked for Koshyari’s order revoking the President’s Rule in the state, and said both letters should be submitted by 10.30 am on Monday. The court also issued notices to the Centre, Fadnavis, rebel Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar and the Maharashtra government.
Fadnavis was on Saturday morning sworn in as the state’s chief minister and Pawar as his deputy in a surprise development, hours after the Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress finalised an alliance to form a government. The NCP later said the decision to tie up with the BJP was Ajit Pawar’s alone, and the party officially wanted to go ahead with the Shiv Sena and Congress to form the government. His uncle, party chief Sharad Pawar, even sacked him as the leader of the party’s legislature party.
Later on Saturday, the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress moved the Supreme Court with an urgent petition against Koshyari’s decision to invite the BJP to form the government. The plea asked for a floor test to be conducted in the Maharashtra Assembly within 24 hours, as against the governor’s directive to the BJP-Ajit Pawar alliance to hold a trust vote on November 30.
While lawyers Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal represented the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, the BJP and Independent MLAs were represented by advocate Mukul Rohatgi, Bar and Bench reported. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta represented the Centre. When asked by the court, he said he had received a copy of the petition on Saturday night and had no instructions from the government on the matter, according to Live Law.
A bench of Justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan, and Sanjiv Khanna heard the petition. Sibal, beginning his arguments, said that it appeared that the governor was “acting directly under the orders of a political party”. “The act of [the] governor smacks of bias, is malafide, contrary to all norms,” he added.
Singhvi said the governor should have waited for a floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly before going ahead with the swearing-in of Fadnavis and Pawar. “How is it possible for someone claiming majority yesterday to shy away from a floor test today?”
Both Sibal and Singhvi urged the court to order a floor test on Sunday itself. Sibal said that if the BJP and Ajit Pawar’s faction of the Nationalist Congress Party does not have a majority, it should allow the Shiv Sena-Congress-Nationalist Congress Party to form a government.
Singhvi wondered how Pawar could be appointed as the deputy chief minister when 41 MLAs of the Nationalist Congress Party had written to the governor stating that they did not consider him a member of the party.
Rohatgi, however, argued that the decisions of the governor are not subject to judicial review under the Constitution. He added that the Supreme Court ought to issue a notice in the matter, so that everyone can “spend their Sunday in peace”. Rohatgi asked the court for three days’ time for all the parties to file a response. He also argued that the independence of the Legislative Assembly should be respected.
However, the Supreme Court asked Mehta to produce the two letters by Monday morning, when the matter will be heard next.
Both BJP, petitioners welcome order
The BJP said later in the day that the court’s order strengthened its claim that Ajit Pawar continues to be the Nationalist Congress Party’s legislature party leader. “The game is up for the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena,” BJP MLA Ashish Shelar said, according to PTI. “Ajit Pawar can issue a whip to the NCP legislators [to vote in favour of an alliance with the BJP].”
The Nationalist Congress Party, however, claimed that the BJP-Ajit Pawar alliance will lose the floor test in the Assembly. “The swearing-in took place on the basis of bogus documents,” party leader Nawab Malik said. “Devendra Fadnavis does not have the numbers. It is better if he quits on his own, else face defeat on the floor of the House during the trust vote.”
Malik said that out of five of his party’s MLAs who had been missed, two had returned and one had posted a message on social media indicating his support for the party. “We expect the rest to return by evening,” he added.
The political crisis in Maharashtra
The BJP had won 105 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly elections, results of which were announced on October 24. The Shiv Sena, which was in an alliance with the BJP, won 56 seats. Despite having enough to form a government together, the two allies bickered over power-sharing – the chief minister’s post and Cabinet portfolios – resulting in the Shiv Sena starting negotiations with the ideologically different Congress and Nationalist Congress Party instead.
With no outcome in sight then, the Centre imposed President’s Rule in Maharashtra on November 12. The Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP continued negotiations to form an alliance, and on Friday evening, Sharad Pawar announced that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had been unanimously chosen to head the new government. The oath taking ceremony of Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar early on Saturday came as a surprise.