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December 3, 2020

Maha drama shifts to assembly; all eyes on floor test

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Now, irrespective of who supports whom, only a floor test in the assembly will decide if this government can continue or not.

IMAGE: Newly sworn-in Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis arrives at the state’s BJP office, in Mumbai. In a stunning turn of events on Saturday early morning, Fadnavis and NCP leader Ajit Pawar took oath as the chief minister and deputy chief minister, respectively. Photograph: Shashank Parade/PTI Photo

The drama in the topsy-turvy political landscape of Maharashtra has now shifted from the headquarters of the political parties to the floor of the state’s legislative assembly, thanks to a gambit by one man: Ajit Pawar, a senior leader of the Nationalist Congress Party and nephew of Sharad Pawar.

As the NCP’s legislative party leader, he legally commands the 54 party members who won the recent assembly elections.


Only 12 of them accompanied him to the swearing-in ceremony on Saturday morning; seven have since reportedly returned to the fold of NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s camp.

But, all of this — which MLAs are with him and who are not — is irrelevant, according to Schedule X of the Constitution. That’s because Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has already sworn in former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis as the new CM and Ajit Pawar as his deputy.

Now, irrespective of who supports whom, only a floor test in the assembly will decide if this government can continue or not, according to precedent set by the Supreme Court’s judgment in the S R Bommai vs Union of India case of 1994.

“If a government has been formed, that cannot be undone, unless it fails to prove majority on the floor of the House, irrespective of defections till then,” said P D T Acharya, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha. Constitutional provisions on legislature apply both to Parliament and state assemblies.

Even if the NCP expels its members who are supporting Ajit Pawar, it will not affect their election and House membership.

“The party can act against purported defectors… without any impact on their position as elected MLAs and their legislative support,” said Anant Kalse, who was secretary at the Maharashtra assembly when Ajit Pawar had served as deputy CM in the Congress-NCP government.

Sharad Pawar said his party’s disciplinary committee will take action.

But only if a party member sends a petition to the speaker of the assembly can action be taken against an elected member.

“A member can move a petition to the speaker and ask them to disqualify the legislative party leader on the grounds that the member has sought to voluntarily exit from the political party,” said Acharya.

Since a government has been formed, the governor will call for a special assembly session. The term of the current speaker, Haribhau Bagde, will end that day; a pro tem speaker will be appointed. The assembly will elect a new speaker by secret ballot.

The anti-defection petition, if the NCP decides to submit it, will be at the speaker’s office. “There is no time limit on the speaker to take it up, as long as the government commands majority in the House,” Kalse said.

As Ajit Pawar is the leader of legislative party he also commands the whips.

“Now, Ajit Pawar is constitutionally empowered to command a bloc in the assembly. Sharad Pawar can at most reform his party,” said a senior politician from Maharashtra.

A voice vote or a division during the confidence vote is all the government needs to stay afloat.

Both Kalse and Acharya said the speaker can choose to sit on the petition for as long as they want to. “Maybe for years,” added Kalse.

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