Poonam I Kaushish
Fatigued and bored of Indo-China war games on India’s eastern front? Flip attention to the west coast where a first rate emotion-filled politico-drama is being enacted. A political saga of “Aaya Ram Gaya Ram”, replete with “garbar ghotala”, “sacha jhoota” and “mirch-masala” of democratic norms. A roller coaster, where Operation Original and Operation Fake go hand-in-hand thanks to Operation Rebels.
How should one describe the ongoing farcical drama in Maharashtra whereby Shiv Sena’s 39 MLAs of 55 led by Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde rebelled against Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray landed in Surat onwards to Guwahati pushing the State’s Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition of NCP-SS-Congress to the brink. A desperate Sena is busy issuing threats with Assembly Dy Speaker issuing disqualification notice to Shinde and 15 others.
Undeniably, these happenings once again brutally expose two reprehensible facets of our rulers’ democratic temper. At the political level, governance is shamelessly all about cutting deals, side deals and underhand deals in a milieu of you-scratch-my-back-and-I-yours with power being a strong glue.
The Dy Speaker (NCP MLA officiating as Speaker, who is yet to be elected) has become a convenient tool of MVA by issuing disqualification notices to 16 rebels who countered by serving a no-confidence motion against him, thereby generating bad blood between Lilliputian politicians. Even as the Centre appointed Governor watches keenly.
The coming days will pose a test for both Constitutional institutions with the Supreme Court giving an interim direction, allowing Shinde group to reply to the disqualification notice by 11 July. Adding, “Any change in the strength and composition of the Assembly, by disqualifying sitting MLAs, for the period during which the notice of resolution for the removal of the Speaker (or Dy Speaker) is pending, would conflict with the express mandate of Article 179(c).”
Which states: A member holding office as Speaker or Dy Speaker may be removed from office by an Assembly resolution passed by a majority of all the then members of the Assembly clearly suggests that all those who were members of the House at the time when such a resolution is moved should have the right to vote on it.
This, the Court averred means even MLAs who are liable to be disqualified have a right to vote on the resolution to remove the Speaker, hence he cannot prevent such members from voting on the resolution by disqualifying them beforehand thereby restricting him from going ahead.
Furthermore it cites its verdict on Nabam Rebia vs. Dy Speaker, Arunachal Pradesh Assembly, where it held that it would be Constitutionally impermissible for a Speaker to adjudicate upon disqualification petitions under the Tenth Schedule, while a notice of resolution for his own removal from the office of Speaker, is pending. It queried how Speaker Rebia preemptively disqualified rebel MLAs on grounds of defection before the Assembly could meet.
Alternatively, if the resolution to remove the Speaker is taken up first, after 14 days of notice as required, and if the resolution is defeated, the Speaker will be in a position to decide the disqualification of MLAs before the confidence vote is considered by the Assembly. This will ensure that those members who are liable to be disqualified do not have the right to vote on the confidence motion.
Under the Tenth Schedule a MLA can be disqualified on two grounds: One, if he voluntarily gives up Party membership on whose ticket he was elected. Two, if he violates the Party whip on voting in the Assembly without obtaining the Party’s prior permission or violation of Party’s direction is not condoned within 15 days from the date of voting or abstention.
Ironically, the vote cast by a MLA in violation of the Party’s direction would have to be counted as a valid vote, even though the MLA is liable to be disqualified on defection grounds. Consequently, there is an element of compulsion on the ruling Party and Assembly’s presiding officer to decide on the disqualification issue first, before voting on the confidence vote is scheduled.
Additionally, the rebel group can write to Governor Koshiyari pressing for an early floor test in the Assembly claiming the support of more than 39 Sena MLAs besides many Independents. In normal times it is the Government’s prerogative to summon the Assembly but as the Sena is facing a revolt from within the Governor can use his discretion and order a floor test.
At another level, Shinde followers assert more than Udhav’s unavailability, reliance on few advisers, leadership failure by his inherent resistance to playing a 24×7 politician, is disillusionment amongst MLAs over his putra moh, inability or unwillingness to accommodate rising ambitions within. Alongside, Udhav’s neglect of rural and mofussil areas given Matoshree’s preoccupation with Mumbai and the cash-rich BMC instead of deepening and expanding Sena’s social base.
Besides, dispensing with Hindutva ideology and joining hands with rivals NCP-Congress. They will not settle for anything short of termination of MVA and renewal of erstwhile BJP-Sena alliance as they are true inheritors of Sena’s charismatic founder Balasaheb Thackeray, not his reticent son.
But Sena leaders discount this as Udhav continues to have reasonable control of the Party machinery. They cite that none of the 12 netas support Shinde, of 32 upnetas only four, not one among 5 secretaries and only some of 33 sampark pramuks and 101 zila chiefs. Moreover, ordinary Saniks continue to owe allegiance to the family.
Interestingly, Thackeray was ready to resign last week after he realized “there was no way out” but reportedly Pawar who arduously stitched the alliance convinced him not to. Today he is caught between a rock and hard place. He will have to keep the Sena intact, failing which establish his faction as the real Sena. He might sacrifice the MVA to save his Party.
However, a split in the Sena appears inevitable. In that case, the Shinde group can either join BJP or claim to be the official Sena and enter into alliance with it. Whichever way Shinde goes, he will have to rely on the BJP to contest the next election.
Even as Pawar says the Government will stay the course the NCP supremo is strategising for Uddhav, trying to salvage a very difficult situation. As the three strange bedfellows have never trusted one another, with each pulling the other in a different direction.
The BJP hurting post its break-up with Sena in 2019 has seized the opportunity and is fishing in troubled waters adopting a wait-and-watch approach as it has nothing to lose with the rebels ensconced in Assam helmed by it and aided by investigating agencies. Already two senior NCP Ministers are in jail on corruption charges.
What next? No doubt, defection is a part of politics. However, fractured verdicts do not give licence for a free-for-all politics of gaddi and gaddari which has become chalti ka nam gaddi, with no stops in sight!
The time has come to set healthy and gracious conventions for high Constitutional offices which calls for fairness, uprightness and adherence to Constitutional values and conventions. Remember, what matters are not men but institutions. One can tit for an individual but not tat on the State. It is imperative our democracy is put back on the rails. (INFA)
Poonam I Kaushish