New Delhi, March 15
The Supreme Court on Wednesday posed probing questions on the role of the then Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari during the 2022 Maharashtra political crisis that led to the fall of MVA Government led by Uddhav Thackeray as it sought to know the material on the basis of which he called for a trust vote.
“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 an elected government,” said a five-judge Constitution Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud.
“You can never allow the Governor to ask for a trust vote when there is absolutely nothing to shake the majority in the House...The trust vote is not for determining who is to be your leader in the House...Governor’s trust vote is where the majority in the House is shaken. Was there anything to indicate that?” asked the Bench – which also included Justice MR Shah, Justice Krishna Murari, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice PS Narasimha.
Koshyari had asked Uddhav Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The top court had on June 29, 2022 refused to stay the Governor’s direction to the MVA Government to take a floor test. Sensing an imminent defeat, CM Thackeray chose to resign and rebel Shiv Sena leader Ennath Shinde was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Maharashtra on June 20, 2022.
The questions from the Bench came after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta – representing the Governor – said the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs had written to the Governor about threats to their lives and they did not want to continue with the “corrupt government”.
“The apprehension of MLAs is also fortified by a letter from the leader of opposition who has also provided links to videos where Mr so and so has openly stated that dead bodies would come... This is a threat on a public platform… It cannot be taken lightly,” Mehta submitted.
Terming it as a “law and order situation”, the Bench said, “It can’t be the ground for unseating a government. Ultimately, that’s subject to Section 156(3) (of CrPC – Magistrate’s power to order a probe into an offence).”
“The Governor must equally be conscious of the fact that his calling for a trust vote may itself may lead to toppling of a government... The Governor should not enter into any area which precipitates the fall of a government… opposition leaders will always write to the Governor…Threat to security is not a ground to call for a trust vote,” it said.
Explaining the sequence of events, the Solicitor General said there were several materials before the Governor such as a letter signed by 34 Shiv Sena MLAs, a letter from independent MLAs withdrawing support to the Thackeray Government as also by the Leader of the Opposition that prompted him to order a trust vote.
Noting that the Governor could not have been a not a mute spectator, Mehta said he was duty-bound to call for a floor test. The Solicitor General asserted that the principle of majority rule was on a higher pedestal than the evil of defection. He said the Governor’s primary responsibility was to ensure that a stable government continued and a democratically elected leader who led it enjoyed the confidence of the House throughout the tenure. “Otherwise there would be no accountability of the leader,” he added.
As Mehta explained the events leading to the fall of MVA Government, the CJI commented, “But they broke bread for three years. They broke bread with the INC and NCP for three years. What happened overnight after three years of happy marriage?”
The Bench said, “Although in hindsight we can say that Uddhav Thackeray had lost the mathematical equation. But the fact is the Governor cannot enter this domain which would precipitate the matter. People will start ditching the ruling party and the Governor will end up toppling the government... This will be a sad spectacle for democracy.”
Drawing a distinction between ‘dissatisfaction within a party’ and ‘loss of majority of the government’, the Bench said, “One is not necessarily indicative of another. In this situation, what was it that would have led the Governor to come to the conclusion that the government had lost the majority? What was the factual basis for him to conclude...what is the reason for calling a trust vote? Tell us one reason why he (Governor) has to call for a floor test.”
The Bench pointed out that the Governor failed to take into account that there was no internal dissent in the Congress and the NCP which had 44 and 53 MLAs, respectively. “This is a block of 97…a solid block. What is disturbed is out of 56 the Shiv Sena,” it said.
The Governor should have kept in mind that till that time there was not even a suggestion that Shiv Sena was going to team up with the BJP to form the Government. “He (Governor) can’t be oblivious to the fact that in a three-party coalition, the dissent has taken place in one party (Shiv Sena) and the other two are steadfast in the coalition,” it noted.
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