Morality and majority: on the Supreme Court verdict on the political imbroglio in Maharashtra

Supreme Court verdict is an indictment of how regime change in Maharashtra was achieved

May 12, 2023 12:20 am | Updated 09:29 am IST

It often happens in litigation around political developments that judgments underscore high principles, but extend no relief to those impacted by breach of constitutional norms. The Supreme Court verdict on the political imbroglio in Maharashtra last year is one such. It is an indictment of the manner in which regime change was achieved, but it does not alter the status quo. A Constitution Bench has ruled that Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari had no objective material to doubt the majority of the then Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray, but had nevertheless asked him to take a floor test, based on extraneous factors. As Mr. Thackeray had resigned without facing the floor test, the Court said it was unable to restore his government. It is true that it cannot quash a voluntary resignation, but the Court fails to acknowledge that his resignation was forced by circumstances to which the Court itself was a party. On the eve of the floor test, a Supreme Court Bench allowed it to go on. Earlier, by an interim order, the Court had extended the time given to the then rebel Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde from June 27 to July 12 to reply to applications seeking their disqualification for defection. The order gave ample time to the dissidents, along with the BJP, to execute political manoeuvres without the threat of disqualification from the House. In effect, the two court orders helped in the toppling of the regime, a fact that the final verdict fails to acknowledge.

The Thackeray faction lost in the numbers game, a game in which time is of the essence for both rulers who need to protect their flock and dissidents who need to rope in enough defectors. Besides cautioning Governors against treating internal problems of a ruling party as a possible loss of majority, the Court has also clarified that whips and leaders of the party in the House ought to be appointed by the political party, and not the legislature party. This has a bearing on whose whip is binding on legislators in the event of a party splitting into two factions. It has also decided that the judgment in Nabam Rebia (2016), holding that a Speaker who is facing a notice for removal from office should not adjudicate a disqualification matter under the anti-defection law, should be reconsidered by a larger Bench. This is welcome, as legislators who have incurred disqualification should not be allowed to use a frivolous petition to remove the Speaker to ward off their own disqualification. Mr. Thackeray can now claim a moral victory, but in the domain of political coalitions, a legislative majority is seen as more important than morality.

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