The Supreme Court.

SC questions Governor’s intent in asking for floor test in Maharashtra

Guv cannot lend office to effectuate particular result like toppling of govt: SC

Prashun Bhaumik | New Delhi | 15 March, 2023 | 11:00 PM

The apex court felt the governor should have asked rebel Shiv Sena MLAs why they suddenly wished to go out of the alliance after a three-year "happy marriage" with the Congress and the NCP. CJI DY Chandrachud asked if a governor can call for a trust vote because of some differences in a party -- like what happened in Maharashtra last year when the Shinde camp announced a rebellion.

As the Supreme Court heard the Sena symbol case, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Wednesday asked what happened overnight in the happy marriage of the Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress that lasted for three years. “They broke bread for three years. They broke bread with the Congress and the NCP for three years. What happened overnight after three years of a happy marriage?” the CJI asked, as quoted by LiveLaw. To this question, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he won’t be able to comment on that as this is a political debate. The CJI then said the governor (then governor) should have asked himself the question that what they were doing for all these years.

“Three years you co-habit and suddenly one fine day a group of 34 say there is discontent,” the CJI said.

“The Governor can’t be oblivious to the fact that in a three-party coalition, the dissent has taken place in one party of the three. The other two are steadfast in the coalition. They are not by any means sidekicks,” the CJI observed.

“Suppose there is a policy difference in a party on whatever aspects. Can the Governor merely on that say that you must prove your trust vote? The Governor must equally be conscious of the fact that his calling for a trust vote may itself be a circumstance which may lead to toppling of a government?,” the CJI said.

The Election Commission has allotted the Shiv Sena name and the bow and the arrow symbol to the faction led by Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde whose rebellion toppled the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray. The Shiv Sena (undivided), the Congress and the NCP came together to form the Maha Vikas Agadhi alliance which formed the government in 2019. Uddhav Thackeray approached the Supreme Court challenging the EC order.

Making strong observations on then Governor Bharat Singh Koshyari’s role in the 2022 Maharashtra political crisis, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said a difference of opinion among MLAs within a ruling party cannot be a sufficient ground for a governor to call for floor test in the Assembly.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said it will be a “sad spectacle for democracy” and that a state governor cannot lend his office to effectuate a particular result.

“Difference of opinion among MLAs within a party can be on any ground like payment of development fund or deviation from party ethos but can that be a sufficient ground for the governor to call for the floor test? Governor cannot lend his office to effectuate a particular result. Calling for a trust vote will lead to toppling of elected government,” the bench said.

In June 2022, Koshyari had asked the then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to face a floor test to prove his majority in the Assembly. However, Thackeray resigned from his post, after which Eknath Shinde was sworn-in as the new chief minister.

The observations by the bench were made after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for Koshiyari, had narrated the sequence of events, stating that there were various materials before the governor including a letter signed by 34 Shiv Sena MLAs, a letter from Independent lawmakers withdrawing support to the Uddhav Thackeray government, and another of the Leader of the Opposition that prompted him to order a trust vote, PTI reported.

The bench said that a letter by the Opposition leader does not matter in the instant case because he will always keep on writing that the government has lost majority or MLAs are not happy. The letter from MLAs that there was a threat to their security is also not relevant in this case, it said.

“The only thing is that a resolution of 34 MLAs which said that there was widespread discontent among the party cadres and legislators….Is this sufficient ground to call for trust vote? Although, in the hindsight we can say that Uddhav Thackeray had lost the mathematical equation.”

The court was hearing a case after the Shinde faction, on March 2, told the former that pleas related to the Maharashtra political crisis fell within the realm of politics and judiciary cannot be asked to adjudicate the issue.

Since then, the Thackeray-led faction and Eknath-led faction of the Shiv Sena have been at loggerheads with each other.

Last month, the Election Commission declared the Shinde faction as ‘real Shiv Sena’ and allotted it the bow and arrow election symbol of the party founded by Balasaheb Thackeray.