Maharashtra Political Crisis: All You Need to Know about SC-Governor Issue

The recent Shiv Sena rift was examined by a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, which concluded that it lacks the authority to order the restoration of the Uddhav Thackeray government. The court based its decision on the fact that Thackeray had resigned voluntarily without facing a floor test. Consequently, the court acknowledged the Governor’s decision to invite Eknath Shinde to form the government with the support of the BJP.

The court noted, “Had Mr. Thackeray refrained from resigning from the post of Chief Minister, this court could have considered the possibility of reinstating the government led by him.” It further emphasized that it cannot nullify a resignation that was tendered willingly.

However, the Constitution bench, consisting of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice MR Shah, Justice Krishna Murari, Justice Hima Kohli, and Justice PS Narasimha, held that the Governor’s previous decision to order a floor test for the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, as well as the Speaker’s appointment of the whip nominated by the Shinde group, were incorrect. In addition, the bench referred to the judgment in Nabam Rebia, directing the matter to be heard by a larger bench.

The proceedings for this matter commenced on February 14, 2023, and the judgment was reserved on March 16, 2023.

The Supreme Court ruled that the appointment of Mr. Gogawale, supported by the Shinde group, as the whip of the Shiv Sena party by the Speaker was deemed illegal.

The bench emphasized that considering the legislative party as the appointing authority for the whip would sever the essential connection with the political party. This would imply that a group of MLAs could disconnect themselves from the political party. The appointment of a whip by the political party is crucial for the tenth schedule, the bench highlighted.

Also, the court observed that the Speaker was aware of the emergence of two factions within the legislative party on July 3, 2022, when appointing a new whip. The court later stated that the Speaker failed to identify which of the two individuals, Mr. Prabhu or Mr. Gogawale, was the whip authorized by the political party. The court emphasized that the Speaker must recognize only the whip appointed by the political party.

The bench underscored that no faction or group could assert themselves as the original party in defense of the disqualification proceedings. The defense of a split is no longer permissible under the tenth schedule, and any defense must align with the existing provisions of the tenth schedule.

Regarding the exercise of discretion by the Governor, the court expressed that if the Speaker and the government evade a no-confidence motion, the Governor would be justified in calling for a floor test without the advice of the council of ministers. However, in this case, the assembly was not in session when Mr. Fadnavis communicated with the Government.

“The opposition parties did not initiate any no-confidence motion. The Governor lacked objective material to doubt the Government’s confidence… The resolution relied upon by the Governor did not indicate the MLAs’ intention to withdraw support. Even if it is assumed that the MLAs wished to exit the government, they constituted merely a faction.”

The bench determined that a floor test could not be employed to resolve internal party disputes. Neither the Constitution nor the law empowers the Governor to enter the political arena and partake in either inter-party or intra-party conflicts.

From where did it all start:

The batch of petitions before the court consisted of various issues raised by members from the Shinde and Thackeray groups. The initial petition was filed by Eknath Shinde in June 2022, contesting the notices issued by the then Deputy Speaker under the tenth schedule of the Constitution, alleging defection by the rebels. Subsequently, the Thackeray group filed petitions in the Supreme Court, challenging the Maharashtra Governor’s decision to call for a trust vote, the appointment of Eknath Shinde as the Chief Minister with the support of the BJP, the election of a new Speaker, and other related matters.

The bench commenced hearing the matter on its merits on February 21. Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Devadatt Kamat presented arguments on behalf of the Uddhav side. Senior Advocates Neeraj Kishan Kaul, Harish Salve, Mahesh Jethmalani, and Maninder Singh put forth arguments in favor of the Shinde side. The Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, represented the Maharashtra Governor in the proceedings.