SC order ruffles the feathers of Shinde group in House

The apex court’s order has ruffled the feathers of the legislators of the ruling dispensation led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
Illustration By Hasan Zaidi

Amit Bishnoi

The Supreme Court has asked Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta to inform newly elected Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar not to take any decision on 16 Shiv Sena legislators whom former Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal issued a disqualification notice. The apex court’s order has ruffled the feathers of the legislators of the ruling dispensation led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.

This may be one of the reasons that Shinde has yet to expand his cabinet, though nearly two weeks have passed since he took over the reins of power in the state. At present, there are only two ministers – Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Challenging the disqualification notice against 16 legislators, the Shinde group pleaded in the court that as there was a no-trust motion against the Deputy Speaker, his decision holds no ground. For the legislators who defect to another political party, it has become a fashion to shoot off a letter of no-confidence against the Speaker to evade the anti-defection law. The same situation as has occurred in Maharashtra happened in Uttarakhand when a Congress legislator switched over to another party, dashing off a letter of no-trust against the then Speaker of the House. What happened after that, is known to all now.

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Whatever may have happened in Uttarakhand, the SC order in Maharashtra case signifies that the apex court wants to take the matter to its logical end, and till that happens, the fate of the present Maharashtra government hangs in the balance. The court said that it would require a constitution bench to deal with the issue. The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution consists of the anti-defection law and the ways of exemption from it. But, because of the chinks in the law, it fails to prevent legislators from changing parties. The defection by the rebel Shiv Sena legislators led by Shinde has been legitimised on the basis of the numbers they have. The exemptions in the law say that if two-thirds of the members of any legislative party merge with another party, it would prevent the disqualification. On the other hand, the merger would have to be of the original party with two-thirds of the members agreeing to it, but only a few sift through the rule book.

Shinde has said that even if those 16 legislators lose their membership in the House, there would be no danger to his government, as it would still have the majority. The Shinde group has the support of 40 legislators, but if the court upholds the Deputy Speaker’s order, his camp would be left with 24 MLAs. Still, he would require two more legislators, belonging to the Shiv Sena, to keep away from the arms of the anti-defection law. Else, those 24 would also lose their membership, and should that happen, the Shinde government would be in minority. Political analysts say that the fate of the Shinde government hangs in the balance until the hearing of the case is over.  Shinde may have won the fight without having even fought it, but the battle ahead would be very tough for him.