Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has to prove his majority "within 24 hours" or by tomorrow, the Supreme Court ruled today on a petition challenging the surprise government formation by the BJP on Saturday. The trust vote will be telecast live and will be presided over by a pro-tem or interim Speaker. The court also ordered that voting will not be by secret ballot.
"In a situation wherein, if the floor test is delayed, there is a possibility of horse-trading, it becomes incumbent upon the Court to act to protect democratic values. An immediate floor test, in such a case, might be the most effective mechanism to do so," said the court in a verdict celebrated by the anti-BJP front in Maharashtra.
The Supreme Court also ordered Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to ensure that all newly elected MLAs are sworn in by 5 pm on Wednesday. The floor test will take place after that, said Justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna.
The Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress alliance had petitioned the Supreme Court against the manner in which Devendra Fadnavis took power, in a secretive oath ceremony on Saturday morning, and had called for an immediate floor test, alleging attempts to buy the support of MLAs.
The alliance had questioned how a government order was put out at 5.47 am revoking President's Rule to facilitate the 7.50 am swearing in.
The BJP had argued that the Governor's invitation to Mr Fadnavis to form government was based on a letter showing the support of 170 MLAs, including all 54 of the NCP of Ajit Pawar, who was sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister.
The three parties accused Ajit Pawar of faking the NCP letter of support using signatures collected from MLAs for the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance. The alliance also submitted an affidavit claiming the support of 154 MLAs.
The court asked to examine the BJP's letter of support as well as the Governor's invite to Mr Fadnavis.
The judges said they would decide later on the arguments of constitutional propriety but at this stage, "it is imperative for this Court to be cognizant of the need to take into consideration the competing claims of the parties, uphold the democratic values and foster constitutional morality".
Their verdict said: "We may note that in the present case, oath has not been administered to the elected members even though a month has elapsed since the declaration of election results. In such emergent facts and circumstances, to curtail unlawful practices such as horse trading, to avoid uncertainty and to effectuate smooth running of democracy by ensuring a stable Government, we are of the considered opinion that it is necessary to pass certain interim directions in this case. In this context, it is necessary and expedient to conduct the floor test as soon as possible to determine whether the Chief Minister, who was administered the oath of office, has the support of the majority or not."
Immediately after the verdict, the Shiv Sena said Mr Fadnavis should resign.
The BJP said the ruling was not a setback. "No judicial pronouncement on issues of the Constitution can be a setback to any political party," said the party's Nalin Kohli.
The BJP's Maharashtra chief Chandrakat Patil said: "We are ready to prove majority and we will show it."