A day after being jolted by the BJP's early morning 'coup' in Maharashtra, the Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP were in consolidation mode Sunday evening with most of its MLAs being shifted into hotels to avoid horse-trading. The BJP, on its part, adopted a wait and watch approach.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to place before it on Monday morning the letters of the governor recommending revocation of President's Rule and inviting Devendra Fadnavis to form government in Maharashtra.
A bench of justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna also issued notices to the Centre and Maharashtra government on a petition filed by the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine against the Maharashtra governor's decision to swear in Fadnavis as chief minister.
The apex court also issued notice to Fadnavis and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. The bench asked Solicitor General Mehta to produce letters of the Governor tomorrow at 10.30 am for passing orders.
The combine on Sunday asked the Supreme Court that Fadnavis be directed to prove majority today or they be given an opportunity to form the government led by Uddhav Thackeray. The combine claimed that they have the numbers to prove a majority in the House and that the governor's decision to invite Fadnavis was "unconstitutional" and "mala fide".
The post-poll alliance also questioned the manner in which President's Rule was revoked at 5.17 am on the recommendation of the governor. The bench headed by Justice NV Ramana said the petitioners have not challenged the withdrawal of the proclamation in their plea. The bench, also comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna, was told by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Sena, that "the only thing the court can now do" is order for a floor test.
"If they believe they have the support of the House, they must be directed to prove it today itself. If they have the numbers, they must prove it or allow us to prove the majority," Sibal said, while maintaining that the combine has the support of 145 MLAs, which is the magic number in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly. Detailing the sequence of events, Sibal said that the pre-poll alliance of BJP-Shiv Sena broke down after the declaration of election result and the current situation involves a post-poll alliance of three parties Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress which were holding deliberation on government formations.
"On 22 November, at 7 pm, a press conference was held wherein we say that Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress have agreed on a Common Minimum Programme and we are going to stake our claim to form government which will be headed by Uddhav Thackeray. What happened thereafter was bizarre," he said. Sibal added that it appears there was some "national emergency" as without any Cabinet meeting the President's Rule in Maharashtra was revoked at 5.17 am.
He referred to last year's Karnataka government formation case and said the apex court had directed a floor test within 24 hours and the same direction should be passed in this case also. "We don't know how much time the governor has given them to prove majority. What letters were submitted to the governor, we don't know. There is nothing in the public domain," Sibal said, adding that "they want to have this intervening period for something else". "We say we have the majority and we are willing to show it," he said.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for some BJP MLA and and two Independents questioned the maintainability of the petition filed by the alliance under Article 32 and said political parties cannot claim violation of their fundamental rights. "Today, a government is there. Why is this hearing taking place on a Sunday, I have no idea," he said. To this, the bench told Rohatgi, "It is the discretion of the Chief Justice of India. We have been nominated by the CJI to hear this matter and that is why we are hearing it".
Rohatgi strongly objected to one of the prayers in the petition which sought the direction to the governor to invite the combine to form government and said, "They don't have any documents with them. Their petition is without any annexure. What kind of prayer is this?". To this, Justice Ramana observed, "Nowadays, in this court sky is the limit. Anyone can ask for anything in the court". The bench then observed that it was not aware of the orders or communications of the governor. Rohatgi said that the court should give them two-three days time to place the relevant documents on record.
"They (combine) should have gone to the governor instead of disturbing the Supreme Court on the night of Saturday", he said, adding, "They were sleeping for three weeks and suddenly they came and say decide it today itself. What is this going on?"Rohatgi said time must be given to file appropriate replies and affidavits on their petition and "we should be allowed to spend our rest of Sunday in peace".
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the NCP and the Congress, contended that a governor, before inviting anybody to form government, is obliged to satisfy himself on three grounds: satisfaction based on written documents, written documents with signatures of MLAs and their physical verification.
He said that the NCP had held a meeting yesterday at 3.30 pm in which Ajit Pawar was removed as the legislative party leader and a resolution was signed by 41 MLAs. While insisting on immediate floor test, Singhvi referred to an earlier apex court verdict and said it was necessary to prevent horse trading. "How is it possible for anyone to take oath of chief minister yesterday and now shy away from floor test? According to me, the Supreme Court is not passing any adversarial order against anyone. Floor test is constitutional obligation of democracy", he said.
Pawar vs Pawar
Meanwhile, a day after his stunning volte face, Ajit, the Maharashtra deputy chief minister on Sunday said he was still with the NCP, adding that Sharad Pawar continued to be his leader.
I am in the NCP and shall always be in the NCP and @PawarSpeaks Saheb is our leader.
Our BJP-NCP alliance shall provide a stable Government in Maharashtra for the next five years which will work sincerely for the welfare of the State and its people.
— Ajit Pawar (@AjitPawarSpeaks) November 24, 2019
"There is absolutely no need to worry, all is well. However a little patience is required. Thank you very much for all your support," he added. Ajit also changed his Twitter bio to reflect his new position in the state government. The NCP had on Saturday night sacked Ajit as the legislative party leader and named Jayant Patil as the temporary replacement. The party had said that Ajit Pawar cannot issue a whip to the legislators during the floor test.
NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, responding to his nephew's claims, said there was no question of an alliance with the BJP in Maharashtra. "Shri Ajit Pawar's statement is false and misleading in order to create confusion and false perception among the people," he added.
The new-found bonhomie between the NCP and Shiv Sena was on display on Sunday after Uddhav Thackeray met Sharad Pawar at a Mumbai luxury hotel where NCP MLAs were lodged amid the high ongoing political drama. NCP spokesperson Clyde Crasto dubbed Pawar, the 20-year-old party's founder, as 'Renaissance Man', even as Thackeray met the NCP chief at the suburban hotel bearing the same name.
"Hey #BJP, Game on. Our 'Renaissance Man' v/s your modern day so-called '#Chanakya'. Bring it on," Crasto tweeted. Responding to Ajit's tweet, Crasto tweeted: "Dear Ajit Dada, Nice to see you reply to our Hon. PM's good wishes but just want to remind you that you are being wished because you left the hands of the Man who held your hand & taught you how to walk in your personal & political life. Wishing you the best for the future."
The Sena-NCP bonhomie was also seen after Shiv Sena leaders Eknath Shinde and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray's Man Friday Milind Narvekar on Saturday caught Sanjay Bansod, NCP MLA from Udgir, who was set to fly out of Mumbai. There was speculation that he was on his way to Delhi. The buzz on social media was Bansod was missing. Shinde and Narvekar had then taken Bansod to the YB Chavan centre in south Mumbai where an NCP meet was underway.
'Sena committed sin'
The BJP accused its former Shiv Sena of committing the "sin" of abandoning its founder Bal Thackeray's thoughts of aligning with the BJP by going with the Congress and the NCP for the sake of
acquiring power in Maharashtra. Addressing a press conference after attending the BJP legislature party meeting here, senior party leader Ashish Shelar said they discussed a strategy to win the impending floor test comfortably.
"The Shiv Sena committed the sin of abandoning Bal Thackeray's thoughts of aligning with the BJP and insulting the popular mandate by going with the Congress and the NCP," he said.
Shelar also said a meeting of Independent MLAs backing the BJP will be held separately. Shelar said Fadnavis will win the floor trust with a majority in the 288-member Legislative Assembly.
"The legislature party meeting deliberated on strategy to be adopted during the floor test," he said.
Shelar said the legislature party also passed a resolution congratulating Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar. "There is an atmosphere of trust and happiness that Fadnavis has assumed the post of chief minister again. Now all the pending development works will be expedited," he said. The senior BJP leader justified the BJP's move to align with Ajit Pawar, hitherto its rival in the state
politics, saying even the Sena has joined hands with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The meeting was attended by most of the 105-elected members of the BJP barring six MLAs. "BJP leaders Sudhir Mungantiwar and Suresh Khadecould not attend the meeting due to some preoccupations while four MLAs could not attend it due to personal reasons," Shelar said. He also said that Ajit Pawar's whip will be applicable to MLAs of the NCP by virtue of him being the "leader of the NCP legislature party".
'Our MLAs are united'
Senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan on Sunday alleged that BJP leaders had booked rooms in hotels where his party MLAs are put up and were contacting some of them. Speculation was rife that the task of getting MLAs into the BJP's fold has been entrusted to senior leader Radhkrishna Vikhe Patil, who had crossed over from the Congress to the BJP ahead of the October Assembly polls, Sainik-turned-Congressman-turned BJP Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane, NCP-turned-BJP MLA Ganesh Naik and Babanrao Pachpute.
When asked about the speculation, Vikhe Patil gave a cryptic and open-to-interpretation reply, stating "I have good relations with all MLAs". Chavan told reporters that some Congress MLAs had told him about the move by the BJP. "Our MLAs are united and will not be poached," Chavan said. MLAs of the Congress, NCP and Sena are sequestered in different hotels in the metropolis, to stall any attempts by the BJP to poach them ahead of the floor test in the Assembly.
Incidentally, BJP leader Ravindra Chavan was seen entering Hotel Renaissance in suburban Powai where NCP MLAs have been staying since Saturday evening. Sources said these NCP MLAs are now being moved to another location nearby. The Congress legislators were earlier supposed to leave for Jaipur, but were later put up in Mumbai in view of the fast-paced political developments, according to sources. While the Congress MLAs are staying in JW Marriott hotel in Juhu, the MLAs of the Sena are staying at The Lalit Hotel located near the Mumbai international airport.
The BJP made a return to power in a dramatic way early Saturday morning after NCP leader Ajit Pawar joined hands, leading to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari swearing in Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister and Pawar as his deputy. Given the political scenario in the state, the role of MLAs has become far more crucial during the floor test in the 288-member House where the halfway mark is 145.
In the Assembly polls held in October, the BJP had won 105 seats, the Shiv Sena 56, the NCP 54 and the Congress 44. According to sources, Independent and other MLAs could tilt the scales in favour of either the BJP-led government of Fadnavis backed by Ajit Pawar or the Sena-Congress-NCP combine during the floor test. For their parts, the BJP and the Opposition combine have claimed that they have the requisite numbers and would win the floor test comfortably.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2019 09:16:23 IST