Midnight coup: On Maharashtra government formation

The surreptitious manner in which Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, respectively, of Maharashtra on Saturday morning was admission by the troupe itself that this drama was beyond the pale. If the coming together of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress in an attempt to form a majority in the hung State Assembly was disrespectful of the mandate, the skullduggery by the dead of night was an outright mockery of democratic norms and established procedure. Pursuit of power often involves amoral ingredients, but the surreal birthing of the new government was nothing short of sheer depravity. The BJP has not set any inspiring ethical bar when it achieved power without winning a popular mandate in several States, but this new low leaves the nation’s political ‘conscience’ with a sinking feeling. In one stroke, the President, the Prime Minister, and the Governor, all appear to be not as guardians of the constitutional order but collaborators in a clandestine, nocturnal scheme. Politically indefensible as the Sena-Congress-NCP alliance might be, its claim to form a government is technically unimpeachable, and cannot be denied.

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Political realignments in an existing legislature are often triggered by splits in alliances or parties. In Maharashtra it appears that the NCP legislature party leader is himself the leading defector — a unique situation. A more consequential betrayal is that of democracy itself. A series of unprecedented actions by the Centre and the Governor, and several unresolved questions that are associated with their actions, throw up multiple legal and constitutional issues. The top court might in due course adjudicate them, but the legitimacy of the Fadnavis government needs to be tested at once. That has been the precedent set by the court in comparable situations in which governments with dubious claims of numbers sought to delay the floor test and horse trading was suspected. The Governor administered the oath of office to the same person who had declined his invitation to form a government earlier. And this just as an alliance with sufficient numbers had taken shape. The Supreme Court has acted with alacrity that this seeming infraction of constitutionalism calls for. In a rare event, the SC heard a petition by the Sena and the NCP on a Sunday, which it said was its duty. It has called for records regarding material facts and circumstances that led the Centre and the Governor to act as they did on the intervening night of Friday-Saturday to be submitted to it on Monday morning. The BJP sought to stonewall or slow down the case during arguments, but if it is so confident of the numbers, as it claims, it should submit itself to a floor test immediately.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 7:07:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/midnight-coup/article30070248.ece

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