In Fight For "Real" Sena, Eknath Shinde To Supreme Court: Let Election Commission Decide

Team Thackeray doesn't want poll panel to decide yet; it has asked court to put an embargo until a verdict on disqualification of "rebel" MLAs

Delhi:

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde today urged the Supreme Court to dismiss all pleas by Uddhav Thackeray's team, and let the Election Commission decide whose faction is the real Shiv Sena. Claiming that he commands the numbers — and, therefore, the Sena — Mr Shinde also submitted that courts shouldn't interfere with internal party decisions "taken democratically by majority".

Team Thackeray doesn't want the Election Commission to decide yet. Last Monday it asked the court to stop the EC from taking any decision until a verdict on pleas seeking disqualification of "rebel" MLAs led by Mr Shinde. The question of "who's the real Sena" is already before the EC, which has sought evidence from both sides by August 8, after which it'll hear the matter.

Today, in his response to the court which is hearing a batch of pleas around the matter, Mr Shinde argued, "A group of 15 MLAs cannot call a group of 39 as rebels. It is in fact the other way around." 

So far, Mr Shinde has got hold of the party in the assembly with two-third Sena MLAs backing him. But claiming the party as a whole needs proof of majority within grassroots units too, besides other legal requirements. 

Though stunted, the faction led by Uddhav Thackeray — unseated as CM in the Shinde-led mutiny, but still party president — has legally challenged a number of decisions by Team Shinde. These include appointment of leaders and 'whips' who can issue binding orders to party MLAs and MPs.

The Supreme Court had sought responses by the next hearing on August 3. The case originally stems from a challenge by Team Thackeray against the Governor's orders for a trust vote. Mr Shinde won that vote as the BJP, the single largest party in the Vidhan Sabha, backed his faction. 

Citing Uddhav Thackeray's resignation a day before the trust vote — after the court refused to halt it — Mr Shinde claimed that all pleas by Team Thackeray thus become invalid. He said the trust vote was valid and he won it by "a thumping majority". The Governor's orders were right and "taken to find a stable majority in the House", he added. "Governor has absolute immunity under the laws and is beyond the jurisdiction of the court."

He cited numbers as "the underlying basis for testing the validity or invalidity of any action... in a parliamentary form of democracy", justifying the election of a new Speaker after the trust vote win. 

And, he said, the Speaker was justified in initiating disqualification proceedings against the Thackeray faction's MLAs under the anti-defection law. 

A key part of the legal fight is that both sides want the other disqualified. Earlier, when Team Shinde's mutiny hadn't yet brought down the Sena-NCP-Congress government, the Deputy Speaker — who belonged to the NCP — had started disqualification proceedings against some of the "rebel" MLAs on a plea by Team Thackeray. 

Mr Shinde further said election of a new Chief Whip as well as Leader of the Shiv Sena in the Maharashtra assembly was valid too, as they were chosen by majority of the party MLAs.

"A chief minister who has lost the confidence of his own party should not continue in office," Mr Shinde submitted, referring to Mr Thackeray. "An anti-democratic and minority government should not be allowed to continue illegally in office," he added.

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