Supreme Court Hearing Begins On Maharashtra Claims

Maharashtra Government 2019: The Supreme Court hearing comes as the BJP, with some deft political manoeuvring, formed government in Maharashtra yesterday

The BJP's Devendra Fadnavis and the NCP's Ajit Pawar took oath on Saturday.

Highlights

  • Court asks for letter from Devendra Fadnavis claiming majority
  • Centre also asked to produce Governor's letter by 10:30 am on Monday
  • Sena-NCP-Congress petitioned against government formation by the BJP
New Delhi:

Two letters will be examined by the Supreme Court shortly as it resumes hearing a petition of the Shiv Sena, Congress and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) against the surprise government formation by the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday morning. The centre was asked in a special hearing on Sunday to produce the letter from Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis claiming majority and that of the Governor inviting to form government.

A three-judge bench also issued notice to Mr Fadnavis, his deputy Ajit Pawar, the NCP leader whose party chief and uncle Sharad Pawar insists he went rogue and that all MLAs are with the party.

The court did not ask Mr Fadnavis to take a test of strength on the floor of the Maharashtra assembly as the three parties had demanded in their petition. "Floor test is the hallmark of democracy.  No formalities required," Abhishek Singhvi, who represented the Congress, said in court. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari has not yet named a date for the floor test.

The BJP said the Governor's decision to invite Devendra Fadnavis to form government cannot be subject to a judicial review. It had also asked for more time to produce the letters, which was turned down by the court.

On Saturday, Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in as the BJP outmaneuvered the three parties that had been in talks for days to form an alliance. President's Rule was revoked at 5.47 am with Prime Minister Narendra Modi using a special rule to approve it without a cabinet meet.

The oath ceremony took place at 7.50 am.

The BJP claims it has the support of all 54 MLAs of the NCP. Mr Pawar's party says Ajit Pawar misled the Governor, submitting a letter with list of MLAs that was meant to show support letter to the Sena-led alliance. The NCP says it has 50 MLAs with it, most of whom attended a meeting last evening in which Ajit Pawar was pulled down from the post of the legislature party leader.

As Justice Ashok Bhusan, part of the bench hearing the case under instructions of Chief Justice SA Bobde, asked when Mr Fadnavis had submitted the support letter, Mr Sibal responded that it was "not on record".

"It is betrayal. The Governor didn't ask for any material... The Supreme Court had ordered Karnataka floor test within 24 hours," said Abhishek Singhvi. Former Union minister and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was representing the Sena, said, "They say have support they say, they must be directed to take floor test".

Appearing for the BJP MLAs and two Independents, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi claimed that the Governor's decision cannot be subject to a judicial review. "The Governor not answerable for his actions... The Governor is immune under Article 361. There is complete bar on any action against Governor," he said.  

In 2018, after the Supreme Court ordered a trust vote, the BJP's BS Yeddyurappa, who had taken oath as the Chief Minister, stepped down saying he didn't have the numbers.

In their petition, the three parties have claimed that the Governor was "duty bound" to study the claim of Mr Fadnavis before inviting him to form government. This was especially so when the Sena, NCP and the Congress, which have 154 MLAs together, have expressed their intention to stake claim to form the government, they said.

"The Hon'ble Governor has acted in a partisan manner and has made a mockery of the high office of the Governor... the Governor's actions between the intervening night of 22.11.2019 and 23.11.2019 culminating to the swearing in on the 23.11.2019 are a text book example of the Governor acting at the behest of a political party in power at the Centre," their petition to the court read.

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