Supreme Court (Photo Credit: PTI)
The Supreme Court is set to pass an order today on holding a crucial floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly to ascertain whether Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis enjoyed majority, as the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress put up a public show of strength to claim they have the numbers to form a new government.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray during the event asked the BJP to “make way” for the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance to rule Maharashtra. He was speaking at a joint parade of MLAs of the three parties, held at a luxury hotel in suburban Mumbai.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who was also present, said BJP misused power to grab power even in states where voters hadn’t given their mandate to it. Locked in a protracted power tussle with the BJP in Maharashtra, the ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress has decided to “parade” 162 MLAs in the Mumbai five-star hotel on Monday evening in a show of united strength.
The move was announced hours after the leaders of the three parties submitted a letter to Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari claiming that they have the requisite numbers to form government.
Those present were at the parade were Congress leader Ashok Chavan, who said, “We are more than 162, not just 162. We all will be a part of the government. I thank Sonia Gandhi who allowed for this alliance to stop BJP.”
“The governor should invite us to form government,” he said.
The order will be passed at 10.30 am today, the court said on Monday, giving the shaky 3-day-old Maharashtra government a breather in the intense battle for numbers between the rival camps.
According to NCP MLA Dhananjay Munde, 162 MLAs of the 'Maha Vikas Aghadi' comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP) and the Congress assembled for a joint 'parade' at a luxury hotel in suburban Mumbai and took oath not to fall prey to any inducements by the BJP. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Ashok Chavan were among others present.
BJP MLA Ashish Shelar responded to the show of strength by the 3-party alliance on Monday night, saying a majority in the Assembly cannot be proved by such parades.
The dramatic turn of events that led to the return of BJP's Fadnavis as chief minister on Saturday propped up by NCP's Ajit Pawar after the latter's revolt against the Sharad Pawar-led party also echoed in Parliament with the Congress and other opposition members creating a ruckus. Ajit Pawar, the nephew of Sharad Pawar, was made the deputy chief minister.
Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were adjourned several hours ahead of schedule in the wake of unrelenting protests by the opposition members.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi set the tone for the protests when he refused to ask a supplementary question during Question Hour in the Lower House at 11 am, saying there was no point in doing so as "democracy has been murdered in Maharashtra". The Congress also alleged that women parliamentarians were manhandled by marshals in the Lok Sabha when they were protesting in the Well of the House.
Though the deadline for proving majority has not been brought on judicial record, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Secretary to the Governor, and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Fadnavis, told the court that the Governor had given 14 days time.
The order by the apex court bench comprising justices N V Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna came after a 80-minute hearing on a petition by the 3-party combine against the governor's decision to invite the BJP to form the government and swearing in Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar as the chief minister and the deputy chief minister respectively.
The Sena-led combine pressed for an order for carrying out the floor test on Monday itself, which was opposed by Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar.
The BJP is the single largest party with 105 MLAs in the 288-member state assembly followed by the Shiv Sena (56), NCP (54) and Congress (44). The majority mark is 145.
The Centre told the apex court that the BJP had the support of all 54 NCP MLAs to form a government and asked for two to three days to reply to the plea against Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari's decision.
Appearing for the Shiv Sena, senior advocate Kapil Sibal countered the BJP by saying the combine has affidavits from 154 MLAs and the BJP should be asked to prove its majority within 24 hours if it has the numbers.
In Mumbai, leaders of the Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress earlier in the day submitted a letter to the governor, reiterating their claim that they have the required numbers to form a government.
Addressing reporters, Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut said the three parties have signatures of all their respective MLAs and will submit the list to the Supreme Court.
Sharad Pawar, who has become the rallying point for the 3-party combine, reiterated he was not behind Ajit Pawar's decision to align with the BJP and become the deputy chief minister,
Talking to reporters, the Maratha strongman asserted that his party along with the Congress and the Shiv Sena will form the next government.
Outside Parliament in the national capital, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that security personnel manhandled party's women parliamentarians.
Congress MPs Jothimani and Ramya Haridas alleged they were "manhandled" and had filed a complaint with Speaker Om Birla.
The BJP, in turn, accused Congress members of bringing "shame" to the Lok Sabha with their "unruly" conduct and rejected the opposition party's claims that its MPs were manhandled.
Amid the high political drama and fear of 'poaching' of MLAs, the NCP shifted its legislators from a five-star resort to two other hotels in Mumbai.
Congress legislators are at a suburban hotel in Andheri as are the Sena's MLAs.
In the top court, Mehta contended that "the governor was immune to the proceedings in the apex court."
He said the BJP had the support of all 54 NCP MLAs to form government and asked for two to three days to file a reply to the combine's plea by asserting that the governor had, in his absolute discretion, invited the largest party to form government on November 23 and "the governor was not supposed to conduct a roving and fishing inquiry to ascertain which party had the numbers to form government."
Mehta said nobody was disputing that a floor test was an ultimate test and no party could say it had to be conducted in 24 hours and also questioned whether the apex court could monitor the proceedings of the House, which was constitutionally barred.
After perusing Koshyari's letter inviting Fadnavis, the bench said it has to be decided whether the chief minister enjoyed majority on the floor of the House. Ajit Pawar told the court he is from the real NCP and was authorised by 54 of the party's MLAs to take a decision on their behalf on government formation.
(With Agency Inputs)