Governors cannot precipitate the fall of elected governments: Supreme Court

‘People may ditch their government, but the trouble starts when Governors become willing allies by calling for a trust vote... This is a very sad spectacle in democracy,” the SC said, in the Maharashtra case

March 15, 2023 11:04 pm | Updated March 16, 2023 12:28 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Dissension in a party is not enough ground to call a trust vote, says CJI D.Y. Chandrachud.

Dissension in a party is not enough ground to call a trust vote, says CJI D.Y. Chandrachud. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that Governors seriously undermine democracy if they use their constitutional office to call for a trust vote, citing dissension within a ruling political party, and precipitate the fall of a legitimately established and functioning government.

Also read | The Governor is under the Constitution, not above it

"A Governor must be aware of the fact that his very calling for a trust vote may precipitate the loss of majority for a government. Calling for a trust vote may itself lead to the toppling of a government… Governors must not lend their offices for effectuating a particular result… The Governor cannot enter into any area by which his action would precipitate the fall of a government," Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a Constitution Bench, observed.

‘Serious for democracy’

The Bench was referring to then-Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari's call for a trust vote on the floor of the House, which eventually led to the fall of the Uddhav Thackeray government in 2022.

The court questioned the version of the Governor's office, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, that there was a serious difference of opinion within the Shiv Sena party between the Eknath Shinde faction and the Thackeray camp. The Shinde camp had felt that Mr. Thackeray had cheated the party's core ideology by joining hands with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to form the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition.

Also read | Changing politics, incompatible Governors

"They [Shinde group] had a remedy then… They could have voted their leader out. But can the Governor say there is dissension about certain aspects of the leadership and a trust vote is called for? This was a government which had already established its majority in the House. It was a functioning government. Can the Governor, I ask again, use his powers to precipitate the fall of an elected government? This is very, very serious for our democracy," Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.

‘Sad spectacle’

Mr. Mehta said that a democratically elected leader should enjoy the confidence of the House during his entire tenure or it may slip into "complete tyranny".

"You can inherit leadership, but not leadership qualities…" he submitted.

"Mr. Mehta, people may ditch their government, but the trouble starts when Governors become willing allies by calling for a trust vote. They give sanctity to the actions of such people… This is a very sad spectacle in democracy," Chief Justice Chandrachud responded.

The Solicitor General said that the majority in the Shiv Sena had found the leadership joining hands with ideologically non-aligned parties to form a government a "sad spectacle".

"But then you cohabited with them for three whole years… What happened after three years of happy marriage that made you suddenly unhappy overnight? Many of them were Ministers in the alliance… You enjoy the spoils and suddenly you wake up, is that it? The fact that the conduct of a government has gone against the core ideology of a party is not a ground for calling of a trust vote by the Governor," Chief Justice Chandrachud noted.

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