Mumbai: Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress claimed to have the numbers to form the government in Maharashtra in an unprecedented show of strength on Monday evening, a day before the Supreme Court pronounces its order on holding a floor test that will decide the fate of the two-day-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led administration.
Legislators from the three opposition parties publicly pledged their support to their Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi combine at a Mumbai hotel as senior leaders claimed the support of 162 MLAs, well above the halfway mark of 145 in the 288-member assembly. As former CM Ashok Chavan, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and NCP strongman Sharad Pawar sat together in the front row to showcase their new coalition, giant banners of “We are 162” were visible in the background.
“There will not be any problem in proving our majority…On the day of the floor test, I will bring more than 162 MLAs. This is not Goa, this is Maharashtra,” said NCP chief Sharad Pawar, referring to a situation in 2017when the BJP was able to cobble together a majority despite finishing second to the Congress in the assembly elections.
He also attacked dissident leader and nephew Ajit Pawar, who stunned the party by backing BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis in an early morning swearing-in on Saturday. The BJP had claimed that Ajit Pawar, who was the NCP legislature party chief at the time of the swearing-in, could issue a whip and make MLAs vote in favour of the administration. But Pawar disagreed.
“His decision to support the BJP was against the party’s policy. The person was removed from the post. He can’t take any decision on our behalf, can’t issue any orders…I am willing to take personal responsibility for this,” Pawar told the legislators.
Senior Sena MP Sanjay Raut “invited” governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari as his party chief, Uddhav Thackeray, dared his opponents to stop the three parties from assuming power. “Try blocking our road and you will come to know what we will do. You have seen Shiv Sena as an ally but not as your opponent,” he said, adding that the coalition was not just for three years but long term.
Earlier in the day, leaders from the three parties went to Raj Bhavan and handed over a letter claiming the support of 162 MLAs. “Devendra Fadnavis does not have the majority and would not be able to prove it on the floor of the house. Once his government fails to prove the majority, we the alliance, led by Shiv Sena, should be given an opportunity to form the government,” the letter said.
The BJP dismissed the Opposition’s claims and said an identification parade was an insult of not just the MLAs but the people electing them. “This parade doesn’t make sense since it is not on the floor of the assembly. We doubt they have even 145 MLAs with them,” said BJP leader Ashish Shelar, insisting that Fadnavis will prove his majority in the assembly.
The current political turmoil in Maharashtra began in the early hours of Saturday when Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in by the governor after nearly a month of political uncertainty following a hung House, and the Sena breaking its 30-year-old alliance with the BJP. In the 288-member assembly, the BJP has 105 MLAs, the Sena 56, the NCP 54 and the Congress 44. Independents and smaller parties hold 29 seats.
Ajit Pawar claimed the support of the NCP legislators, but Sharad Pawar has dismissed them, and said most of the MLAs had come back to the party fold.
The dramatic developments in Mumbai followed fireworks in the courtroom in Delhi on Monday morning when a three-judge bench of justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna continued hearing in the petition filed by the Sena, NCP and Congress seeking directions to Koshyari to hold an immediate floor test.
The Centre’s second top law officer, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the secretary to the governor, submitted details of the decision taken by Koshyari. He explained Koshyari invited Fadnavis to form the government only after Fadnavis produced letters of support from 11 independent MLAs and Ajit Pawar of the NCP, whose letter had the signatures of 54 MLAs.
Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for Fadnavis, told the judges that Ajit Pawar had shown him letters of support of 54 MLAs. Rohatgi said that Fadnavis went to the governor based on the letter given by Ajit Pawar.
“One Pawar is with me. The other Pawar has approached court. That is their family feud. I am not concerned with that,” Rohatgi told the bench.
Ajit Pawar, whose letter of support with signatures of 54 lawmakers formed the crux of this case, insisted that he was well within his powers to take the call he did. “I am NCP. As leader of the legislature party, I am entitled to take call on these issues,” Ajit Pawar’s lawyer Maninder Singh told the bench.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Shiv Sena, told the Court that he has affidavits signed by 154 MLAs expressing support for Sena-NCP-Congress alliance.
He also questioned the Governor’s “great hurry” in revoking President’s Rule at 5.47am and alleged that it was done only because the Sena, NCP and Congress announced their alliance the previous evening.
“What was the great hurry to revoke President’s Rule …If he waited for so long, could he not have waited for another 24 hours? What was the national emergency? The only reason it was done was because an alliance was announced at 7pm,” Sibal said.
Singhvi, appearing for the NCP, told the court that the letter containing signatures of NCP lawmakers was to elect Ajit Pawar as legislative party leader and not to join the BJP alliance. “This is perjury. This is a fraud on democracy of the worst kind. Does a single NCP MLA say they are ready to go join BJP”, asked Singhvi.
“If it appears that there is a total lack of application of mind by the governor, then his actions might not get immunity from judicial review. The court has not adopted a completely hands-off approach. They asked for letter obviously in order to see whether the governor had material to form a prima facie satisfaction,” senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said.