The Supreme Court on Thursday (May 11) held that the Maharashtra Governor was not justified in calling upon then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove majority in the Assembly on June 30 last year, but refused to order status quo ante, saying he did not face the floor test and resigned.
The five-judge Constitution bench also held that the Speaker’s decision to appoint Bharat Gogawale of the Shinde faction as the whip of Shiv Sena was “illegal”.
The top court, however, added that since Thackeray resigned without facing the floor test, the governor was right in inviting Shinde to form government at the behest of the BJP which was the largest political party in the house.
“The governor was not justified in calling upon Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the House because he did not have reasons based on objective material before him to reach the conclusion that Thackeray had lost the confidence of the House,” said the bench which also comprised Justices M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P S Narasimha.
“However, the status quo ante can’t be restored because Thackeray did not face the floor test and tendered his resignation. The governor was, therefore, justified in inviting Shinde to form the government at the behest of the BJP which was the largest political party in the house,” it said.
The top court gave its verdict on a batch of petitions related to the political crisis that led to the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government helmed by Thackeray following a rebellion by the Eknath Shinde faction.
Regarding the appointment of Gogawale — backed by the Shinde faction — as the Sena whip, the court observed that the Speaker was aware that two factions had emerged in the Sena legislative party when he appointed the new whip.
The top court also referred the 2016 Nabam Rebia verdict by a five-judge constitution bench, which relates to the power of speaker on disqualification of MLAs, to a larger bench of seven judges.
Also read: Shiv Sena symbol row: Uddhav’s faction moves SC against EC decision
What happened in Maharashtra?
In June 2022, a political crisis unfolded in the Maharashtra Assembly, triggered by a rift in the Shiv Sena, leading to two factions — one led by current Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and the other by Uddhav Thackeray. Subsequently, both groups filed petitions in Supreme Court.
Shinde filed the first petition, challenging the notices issued to 16 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs by the then deputy Speaker for not attending a party meeting convened by the then CM Uddhav Thackeray despite a whip.
Later, the Thackeray group filed a petition challenging the then Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari’s decision to call for a trust vote and urged the SC Constitution Bench to restore status quo. It has also questioned Shinde’s swearing-in as the CM and the election of the new Speaker, among other things.
What the court said earlier
During the hearing, while the court questioned Koshyari’s decision to call for a floor test based only on the Shinde faction’s discontent with Thackeray, it also wondered how it could reinstate the Thackeray government by invalidating a trust vote that never actually took place since Thackeray resigned before it could be held.
The Shinde faction went on to join hands with the BJP and sought a trust vote on the Assembly floor in July 2022, where they got the support of 164 of the 288 MLAs. Since then, Thackeray has lost the “real Sena” tag to the Shinde faction, with the Election Commission in February allocating the “bow and arrow” poll symbol to the latter.
The five-judge Constitution Bench, comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices MR Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli, and PS Narasimha, had concluded the hearing on March 16 and reserved its verdict for May 11.
(With agency inputs)