Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde today went all out in proving who controls the party, with both sides deploying a battalion of top lawyers to argue their case before the Supreme Court. The political developments in Maharashtra have been hitting headlines for a long now. Be it the fight over Shiv Sena camps or a controversy started by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, all events have had consequences.
The Supreme Court adjourned the hearing of Shiv Sena’s pleas till August 4. At the outset, Kapil Sibal argued on behalf of the Uddhav Thackeray camp that the only way to avoid disqualification was for 2/3rds of the members to join another party. At the same time, he emphasised that paragraph 4 of the 10th schedule prohibits two-thirds of the members from claiming to be the original political party.
Pressing for the disqualification of the rebels, Sibal observed, “This court in the Karnataka Assembly case held that the giving up of party members can be inferred from conduct. Here, they were called for a party meeting. They went to Surat and then to Guwahati. They wrote to the deputy speaker, and he appointed their whip.” Similarly, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi stated, “The end does not justify the means. That is not the objective of the 10th schedule. It says even if a majority defects, it is a constitutional sin. So, they can’t claim legitimacy on the majority alone”.
Thereafter, senior advocate Harish Salve appeared for Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde. He averred that the anti-defection law is not a weapon for the leaders who have lost the numbers to lock their members. When asked by the CJI whether there was any relevance to the political party, Harish Salve said, “I [Shinde] belong to Shiv Sena. My chief minister refuses to meet me. I am not arguing facts or giving theoretical facts. I want a change of CM. That is not anti-party, that is intra-party”.
When the SC inquired about the current status of Shinde, the Queen’s Counsel clarified that he was a dissenting member of the Shiv Sena. He also made it clear that the proceedings pending before the Election Commission of India (ECI) have nothing to do with the disqualification. Harish Salve asserted that if there is an intra-party rebellion within a party against a leader versus a group of people who are leaving the party, the anti-defection law will apply only to those who have given up their membership in the party.
After the CJI asked Salve about the rationale for Shinde to approach the EC, he said that it is necessary to decide the faction which can use the party symbol ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls. When he urged the SC to not decide on the disqualification of MLAs, the CJI reminded him that it was his client who got relief from the court first. Appearing for Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta questioned whether the 10th schedule could be misused to curb intra-party democracy and to prohibit majority members from exercising their freedom of expression within the party.
Commenting on the argument that the Governor shouldn’t have called a person likely to be disqualified to form the government, he said that the former couldn’t wait indefinitely as there was a stalemate in the House. Meanwhile, senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani urged the SC to allow the Speaker to decide on the disqualification pleas. The Supreme Court is hearing a bunch of petitions related to the formation of the Eknath Shinde-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, disqualification of rebel MLAs, and the right over the bow-and-arrow symbol. Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked the Eknath Shinde camp if there is no relevance of a political party. The question arose after Shinde’s lawyer and senior advocate Harish Salve said that none of the issues raised by Uddhav Thackeray’s lawyer is necessary.
The anti-defection law is not a weapon for a leader who has lost the confidence of his own party members and he’s trying to lock them up,” Salve said. Before the crucial case in the court, a lot happened in the state. On the other hand, the Thackeray camp has filed a rejoinder before the Supreme Court, saying that the delinquent MLAs, including Shinde, came to the apex court with “unclean hands”.
In Pune’s Katraj Chowk, a vehicle of former minister Uday Samant, who switched his allegiance to Shinde, was allegedly attacked by some unidentified people while passing by a location where Aaditya Thackeray held a public meeting. In a video doing rounds on social media, a mob can be seen trying to gherao Samant’s vehicle and raising slogans like “traitors” against the MLA and CM Shinde.
Reacting to the attack, Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde called it an “act of cowardice”. “There is no bravery in pelting stones and fleeing. It is our responsibility to maintain law and order. Thackeray accused the other group led by Mr Shinde of “floating a fake narrative to justify their anti-party stand”. When Team Thackeray asked whether the anti-defection law is even applicable now or is it something that is just on paper, Team Shinde replied this law is not for a leader who has lost the confidence of his own party members and somehow wants to lock them in and hang on to power. The Thackeray faction claims disqualification notices but nobody has been disqualified so far. Not attending a party meeting held outside the house is not grounds for defection. Intra-party dissent is not grounds for defection. We confuse political parties with leaders. So and so the party is so and so the leader.
Uddhav Thackeray stepped down as Maharashtra Chief Minister after nearly 40 Sena rebel MLAs led by Eknath Shinde revolted against him in June, and with the BJP’s support formed the government by dislodging the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance of the Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, or NCP.
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