The Maharashtra rebels camping in BJP-ruled Assam have moved their battle to the Supreme Court. The court will take up two petitions on Monday — one by rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde; the other by 15 MLAs belonging to his camp.
The petition challenges the decision by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal to recognise Ajay Choudhary as leader of the Shiv Sena Legislature Party (SSLP) in place of Shinde, and the disqualification notices served on Shinde and the 15 MLAs.
The matter has been listed before a vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala.
Former Solicitor General of India Harish Salve will represent the Shinde camp. Former Congress leader Kapil Sibal will appear for the Deputy Speaker, and Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi for the Shiv Sena.
“Legal recourse is the only way forward,” a spokesperson for the Shinde camp said on Sunday. “The Shiv Sena is trying to create hurdles even though the majority of party MLAs have abandoned them.”
The Shinde camp has claimed it has 39 of the Sena’s 55 MLAs, including Minister for Higher Education and Technical Education Uday Samant, who flew to Guwahati to join the rebels on Sunday. The rebels are now more than two-thirds (37) of the Sena legislature party.
Several Independent MLAs too are with Shinde. “We are 50-plus in all,” Shinde said.
According to Shinde’s petition, the Deputy Speaker recoised Choudhary as leader of the SSLP “despite the said request being admittedly made by a minority faction” of the Legislature Party, and the action was, therefore, “illegal and unconstitutional”.
The notice issued to him on Saturday on a plea to disqualify him from the Assembly too “is grossly illegal, unconstitutional and in utter disregard” of the previous rulings of the Supreme Court on this subject, Shinde has said.
“It is common knowledge that the current government in the State of Maharashtra, led by the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance has lost the majority in the house as 38 of the members of the Shiv Sena Legislature Party have withdrawn their support thus bringing it below the majority in the house. However, the MVA government continues to misuse the office of the Deputy Speaker to ensure that they remain in power by whatever means necessary,” the petition says.
“The disqualification notice is classic example of the Deputy Speaker acting hand in glove with the Government in an attempt to hastily disqualify” him “along with other supporters”, and “the Disqualification Rules and the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules are seeking to be completely bypassed.” “,” Shinde has argued.
He has said that he was given “merely 48 hrs.” to reply to the notice, whereas under the Rules, he is entitled to at least seven days, which can be extended further by the Speaker. The notice is “completely mala fide and arbitrary and therefore violative of Article 14 of the Constitution…and has been issued with a pre-meditated mindset to illegally disqualify” him, says the petition.
According to the plea, filed through Advocate on Record Abhinav Sharma, the position of Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly has been vacant since Nana Patole resigned in February 2021, and “thus, there is no authority who can adjudicate upon the disqualification petition under which the Impugned Notice has been issued…”
Shinde has told the court that a resolution for the removal of the Deputy Speaker is pending, and asked it to direct that no action should be taken on the disqualification petition until the resolution for removal of Deputy Speaker is decided.
The petition also mentions the alleged threat to the rebel MLAs and their families. “…Not only the security of our families and relatives have been compromised by removing the security personnel but also there is an ongoing agenda wherein various leaders of the MVA government are instigating the cadres of their respective parties to take up violence… (Sena MP) Mr Sanjay Raut (has) threatened the Petitioners and the other members by stating that he would make it difficult for the MLAs who have left to return to Maharashtra…,” he says.
The second petition — filed by Bharat Gogavale, whom the rebels have chosen Chief Whip of the Sena legislature party replacing Sunil Prabhu, and 14 other MLAs — says that the SC had in a 2016 decision “clearly held” that Speaker or Deputy Speaker cannot disqualify a member while a resolution for their own removal is pending.
The petition argues that the rebel MLAs have not given up their Shiv Sena membership, and their actions would not fall within the meaning of the expression “voluntarily giving up membership” under Paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule.
At a meeting of the constituent parties of the MVA convened by NCP president Sharad Pawar on Sunday, leaders of the Sena, NCP and Congress resolved to fight together the legal battle to save their coalition government.
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Five of the Sena’s nine Cabinet Ministers — Shinde, Samant, Dadaji Bhuse, Gulabrao Patil, and Sandipan Bhumre — have rebelled against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. There are two Ministers of State among the rebels — Abdul Sattar and Shambhuraje Desai — as well as former Cabinet Minister Sanjay Rathod.
Left with the Chief Minister are his son Aaditya Thackeray, Subhash Desai, and Anil Parab.
Shiv Sena counsel Devdutt Kamat told reporters that disqualification rules are applicable to members even outside the House. He cited the precedent of Sharad Yadav of the JD(U), who had invited action because he had attended a rally by RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
“The Shiv Sena had convened several meetings at different places which the rebels did not attend. They are visiting BJP-ruled states, and are meeting BJP leaders. An attempt to topple the government amounts to an act of violation (of discipline) by the rebels,” Kamat said.
On the anti-defection law, he said, “The concept of two-thirds (to escape punishment) applies only if there is a merger of the rebel group with another party. Since there is no merger, it will amount to their having voluntarily given up their membership (of the House).”