Explained | What is the SC ruling on Sena vs. Sena?

Why did the Court state that the call of the then Maharashtra Governor to initiate a trust vote was not justified? Can the Court reinstate Uddhav Thackeray? Can the courts rule on disqualification petitions? What has it said on the Speaker’s role?

Updated - May 12, 2023 01:19 pm IST

Published - May 11, 2023 10:40 pm IST

Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) workers celebrate the Supreme Court’s verdict in Nagpur on May 11.

Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) workers celebrate the Supreme Court’s verdict in Nagpur on May 11. | Photo Credit: PTI

The story so far: In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court on Thursday held that then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari’s call for a trust vote, which led to the resignation of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government last June, was illegal. It said that Mr. Koshiyari was “not justified” in calling Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the House. But the Court also said that it could not reinstate Mr. Thackeray as Chief Minister because he had resigned instead of facing the trust vote.

How did the case land in the SC?

Last year, the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government was toppled and replaced by another government, comprising a faction of the Shiv Sena, which claimed to be the “real” Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and several Independent MLAs. The leader of the breakaway Sena faction, Eknath Shinde, became Chief Minister.

The first petition was filed by Mr. Shinde last June after notices were issued by then Deputy Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly, Narhari Zirwal, against 40 rebel MLAs under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution which deals with disqualification on the grounds of defection. Thereafter, petitions were filed by the Thackeray group challenging the then Maharashtra Governor’s decision to call for a trust vote and the swearing-in of Mr. Shinde as Chief Minister. The election of the new Speaker, Rahul Narwekar, was also challenged. A Constitution Bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justices M.R. Shah, Krishna Murari, P.S. Narasimha, and Hima Kohli had reserved its judgment on March 16. On May 11, based on the five petitions and arguments made by both parties, the Court gave its ruling on questions of law that arose in this case in a 141-page judgment.

Can the Supreme Court decide a disqualification petition?

The Speaker is the authority to adjudicate petitions for disqualification under the 10th Schedule. The petitioners wanted the Court to give its decision on the issue of disqualification of Mr. Shinde and his supporters. However, the Court said it “cannot ordinarily adjudicate petitions for disqualification under the 10th Schedule. There are no extraordinary circumstances in the instant case that warrant the exercise of jurisdiction by this Court to adjudicate disqualification petitions. The Speaker must decide disqualification petitions within a reasonable period.”

The Court said an MLA has the right to participate in the proceedings of the House “regardless of the pendency of any petitions for their disqualification. The validity of the proceedings of the House in the interregnum (the period between a regime change) is not ‘subject to’ the outcome of the disqualification petitions.”

Was the floor test justified?

The Court noted that the Governor was not justified in calling upon Mr. 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 Mr. Thackeray had lost the confidence of the House.” But the Court also said that “status quo ante cannot be restored” because Mr. Thackeray did not face the floor test and resigned from the post. The Governor, it said, was justified in inviting Mr. Shinde to form the government.

What is the Court’s ruling on the role of the political party in relation to the legislature party?

Questions arose on whose whip is binding if the whip appointed by the political party and the one acting on behalf of the legislature party (the Shinde group in this case) give different instructions to members. The Shinde faction argued that it is the legislature party that appoints the whip. The Court disagreed: “To hold that it is the legislature party which appoints the Whip would be to sever the figurative umbilical cord which connects a member of the House to the political party. It would mean that legislators could rely on the political party for the purpose of setting them up for election, that their campaign would be based on the strengths (and weaknesses) of the political party and its promises and policies, that they could appeal to the voters on the basis of their affiliation with the party, but that they can later disconnect themselves entirely from that very party and be able to function as a group of MLAs which no longer owes even a hint of allegiance to the political party.”

The Court ruled that direction to vote in a particular manner or abstain is issued by the political party, and not the legislature party.

Both the Whip and the Leader of the party in the House should be appointed only by the political party. Accordingly, it said the Speaker’s action approving Mr. Shinde’s appointment as Shiv Sena leader in the House was contrary to law. “The Speaker shall recognise the Whip and the Leader who are duly authorised by the Shiv Sena political party with reference to the provisions of the party constitution, after conducting an enquiry in this regard and in keeping with the principles discussed in this judgment,” the judgment read.

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