The political drama in Maharashtra has now shifted from the headquarters of the political parties to the floor of the state’s legislative Assembly, thanks to a gambit by one man: Ajit Pawar, a senior leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and nephew of Sharad Pawar.
As the NCP’s legislative party leader, he commanded the 54 party members, and Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari sworn in former chief minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis as the new CM and Ajit Pawar as his deputy, in early hours on Saturday.
Now, irrespective of who supports whom, only a floor test in the Assembly will decide if this government can continue or not, according to precedent set by the Supreme Court’s judgement in the S R Bommai vs Union of India case of 1994.
The floor test can get advanced if the apex court rules in its favour on Sunday.
“If a government has been formed, that cannot be undone, unless it fails to prove majority on the floor of the House, irrespective of defections till then,” said P D T Acharya, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha. Constitutional provisions on legislature apply both to Parliament and state Assemblies.
Even if the NCP expels its members who are supporting Ajit Pawar, it will not affect their election and House membership.
“The party can act against purported defectors... without any impact on their position as elected MLAs and their legislative support,” said Anant Kalse, who was secretary at the Maharashtra Assembly when Ajit Pawar had served as deputy CM in the Congress-NCP government.
To make any difference, the NCP would need to initiate a disqualification petition action the respective elected member, which can be heard only by the speaker of the Assembly. “A member can move a disqualification petition against the legislative party leader on the grounds that the member has sought to voluntarily exit from the political party,” said Acharya.
If the NCP issues a whip on the floor, Ajit Pawar may face disqualification if he refuses to vote in favour of the party.
However, if the NCP decides to submit an anti-defection petition against MLAs who have gone on their own, only the speaker can hear it, and there lies the catch.
Since a government has now been formed, the governor will call for a special Assembly session, presided by the pro-tem speaker, as the term of the current speaker would expire that day. After the pro-tem speaker delivers oath to members, the Assembly will elect a new speaker by secret ballot.
“There is no time limit on the speaker to take it up, as long as the government commands majority in the House,” Kalse said.
A voice vote or a division during the confidence vote is all the government needs to stay afloat.