Maha political row: Thackeray can't be restored as CM as he resigned without facing floor test, says SC

The Supreme Court Thursday held the Maharashtra governor was not justified in calling upon then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove majority in the Assembly on June 30 last year but refused to order status quo ante, saying he did not face the floor test and resigned.
Maha political row: Thackeray can't be restored as CM as he resigned without facing floor test, says SC

 New Delhi |  Eknath Shinde will continue as the chief minister of Maharashtra, with the Supreme Court on Thursday holding that it cannot restore the then Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government led by Uddhav Thackeray as he resigned without facing the floor test in June last year.

The court also pulled up then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and said he did not have reasons based on objective material before him to reach the conclusion that then chief minister Thackeray had lost the confidence of the House.

In a unanimous verdict on a batch of pleas related to the political crisis that led to the fall of the three-party MVA government led by Thackeray following a revolt by the Shinde faction, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud held that the then Speaker's decision to appoint Bharat Gogawale of the Shinde faction as the whip of Shiv Sena was “illegal”.

It, however, said since Thackeray had resigned without facing the floor test, the Governor was justified in inviting Shinde to form the government at the behest of the BJP which was the largest political party in the house.

“The Governor was not justified in calling upon Mr Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the House because he did not have reasons based on objective material before him to reach the conclusion that Mr Thackeray had lost the confidence of the House,” said the bench, which also comprises Justices MR Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and PS Narasimha.

“However, the status quo ante (previously existing state of affairs) can't be restored because Mr Thackeray did not face the floor test and tendered his resignation. The Governor was, therefore, justified in inviting Mr Shinde to form the government at the behest of the BJP which was the largest political party in the house,” it said.

The top court also referred the 2016 Nabam Rebia verdict by a five-judge constitution bench, which relates to power of the speaker on disqualification of MLAs, to a larger bench of seven-judges.

It said the issues such as whether motion for Speaker's removal will restrict his powers to issue disqualification notices, needed examination by a larger bench.

The 2016 judgement dealt with powers of the assembly speaker and ruled that he/she cannot proceed with pleas for disqualification of MLAs if a prior notice seeking the speaker's removal is pending before the House.

The bench held the then Governor had erred in relying on a resolution of faction of MLAs of Shiv Sena to conclude that Thackeray had lost majority in the house.

The CJI, who pronounced the verdict on behalf of the bench, said the resolution relied on by the then governor didn't indicate that the MLAs wanted to withdraw support from the MVA government.

The apex court held that if the speaker of the government tries to circumvent a no-confidence motion, then the Governor will be justified in calling for floor test.

It said the speaker must recognise only the whip appointed by a political party.

On March 16, the top court had reserved its verdict on the pleas at the conclusion of lengthy arguments from both sides that went on for nine days starting February 21.

On the last day of hearing, the top court had wondered as to how it can reinstate the Thackeray government when the chief minister had put in his papers even before facing the floor test, after the faction led by him pitched for setting aside the governor's June 2022 order to the CM for a trial of strength in the House.

The Thackeray faction had made vehement submissions before the court urging it to "turn back the clock" and restore the "status quo ante" as it had done in 2016 when it reinstalled Nabam Tuki as the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh.

On June 29, 2022, at the height of the Maharashtra turmoil, the apex court had refused to stay the governor's direction to the 31-month-old MVA government led by Thackeray to take a floor test.

Sensing defeat, Thackeray resigned, catapulting to power a Shiv Sena-BJP dispensation led by Shinde.

On August 23, 2022, a three-judge bench of the top court headed by then chief justice N V Ramana had formulated several questions of law and referred to the five-judge bench petitions filed by the two Sena factions which raised several constitutional questions related to defection, merger and disqualification.

In a blow to the Thackeray bloc, the Election Commission had earlier this year declared the Shinde faction as the real Shiv Sena and allotted it the bow and arrow symbol of the party founded by Balasaheb Thackeray.

The Maharashtra Assembly has a strength of 288 members, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being the single largest party with 105 MLAs.

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