In a huge setback for Uddhav Thackeray in his fight against aide-turned-rival Eknath Shinde, the Supreme Court today refused to stop the Election Commission from deciding who forms the "real" Shiv Sena.
In a hearing that was live streamed, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition by Uddhav Thackeray's faction to stop the Election Commission from deciding on the claim of the Eknath Shinde-led group over the "real" Shiv Sena and its symbol.
Uddhav Thackeray's government in Maharashtra collapsed in June after a coup split the Shiv Sena founded by his father Bal Thackeray. Eknath Shinde, who led the coup, went on to form a new government with the BJP.
Mr Shinde was sworn in as Chief Minister on June 30, with the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy.
Team Thackeray approached the Supreme Court seeking the disqualification of the rebel MLAs. If the MLAs are disqualified, Mr Shinde's government could be in trouble.
Mr Thackeray had told the Supreme Court that the Election Commission cannot decide who the "real Shiv Sena" is until the court decides on the disqualification of the rebels. If the MLAs are disqualified, they cannot be counted in the symbol dispute proceedings, team Thackeray said. The Supreme Court, however, said they are separate proceedings.
Of 55 Shiv Sena MLAs, Mr Shinde has the support of 40. Also, 12 of 18 MPs back the Chief Minister.
To decide on which faction is legitimate, the Election Commission usually assesses the number of elected MLAs, MPs and office bearers backing each side.
On August 23, the Supreme Court referred to a five-judge bench petitions filed by the Uddhav Thackeray and Shinde-led factions raising several constitutional questions related to defection, merger and disqualification.
The court said the petitions raise important constitutional issues on the disqualification of defecting MLAs, the power of the Speaker and the Governor and judicial review.
The Thackeray faction had told the court that MLAs loyal to Eknath Shinde could easily avoid disqualification under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution only by merging with another political party. Team Shinde argued that the anti-defection law cannot be the shield for a leader who has lost the confidence of his own party.