Ahead of Tuesday’s 10.30 am Supreme Court ruling on the floor test for the Maharashtra government led by the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress’ Maha-Aghadi on Monday evening put on a ‘show of strength’ at a Mumbai luxury hotel.
At a event at the Grand Hyatt, 162 MLAs of the Maha-Aghadi vowed not to “fall for any inducements” from the BJP. NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, the Opposition leader who single-handedly defied the BJP at the hustings in the Maharashtra Assembly polls, told the gathering he would ensure none of them loses membership for voting against the BJP during the floor test. The NCP chief claimed that the BJP has tried unconstitutional ways to gain power in Goa and some other states. “Maharashtra is not Goa and it is time to teach them a lesson,” Pawar said.
“Misinformation is being spread that Ajit Pawar is the NCP’s legislature party leader who would issue a whip to all (NCP) MLAs to vote for the BJP (in floor test). It is being said that whoever defies the whip would lose his membership of the House,” Pawar said. The NCP chief added that he had consulted several constitutional and legal experts and also gone through previous instances on the issue of technicalities.
“I have come to the conclusion that Ajit Pawar, who is removed from his position (as the NCP legislature party leader for joining hands with the BJP in forming a government), has no legal right to issue a whip to MLAs,” Pawar said. “I personally take the responsibility that your membership of the House will not become null and void. People who have acquired power illegally have to be removed now,” Pawar said apparently referring to the BJP.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, speaking at the event, asked the BJP to “make way” for the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance to rule Maharashtra. Those present were at the parade were Congress leader Ashok Chavan, who said, “We are more than 162, not just 162. We all will be a part of the government. I thank Sonia Gandhi who allowed for this alliance to stop BJP.” “The governor should invite us to form government,” he said.
The Sena and Congress MLAs arrived at the hotel shortly before 7 pm by various buses arranged by their parties. NCP MLAs were shifted there earlier from another hotel. Even as the “parade” of MLAs was in progress in the hotel, supporters of these parties gathered outside shouted slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
BJP mocks Maha-Aghadi combine
The BJP hit back at the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP combine over its show of strength of their MLA, and said they will win the “photo finish” race during floor test in the Assembly. Addressing a press conference , BJP leader and former Maharashtra minister Ashish Shelar taunted the Sena-NCP -Congress for “identification parade” of their MLAs and termed it as a cruel joke on the people of the state and democracy. This cannot be equated with a floor test in the Assembly, he said, minutes after the unprecedented public parade of what the three parties claimed were 162 MLAs at a high-end hotel.
Shelar said, “We are sure that we will win the floor test in the assembly, whenever it gets convened. Such parades in a hotel will not help in proving majority on the floor.” He also hit at the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s one-time ally, for “forsaking” Hindutva and joining hands with the Congress, its ideological rival. Shelar took potshots at Shiv Sena MLA Aaditya Thackeray, the son of party chief Uddhav Thackeray, for taking an oath in the name of Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi. “The way Shiv Sena leaders have joined hands with the Congress, it underscores how hollow it’s Hindutva has been,” said the BJP leader.
Shelar wondered whether there were even 145 MLAs at the hotel, the majority mark in the 288-member state Assembly. “You may have your photo, you may have your photographers there to show your strength, but it is the BJP who will win at the time of photo-finish under the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis and (deputy CM) Ajit Pawar,” he said, indicating a tight race during the floor test.
Controversy over closure of 9 cases related to irrigation scam
Opposition parties reacted with fury to the news of the state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) announcing it had closed the probe into alleged irregularities in nine cases related to the Maharashtra irrigation projects, adding that none of those was linked to Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra took a dig at the prime minister, saying he gave an impressive speech on corruption in Jharkhand and it is being implemented in Maharashtra at the same time.
Closing down ‘Corruption Cases’ is now being used as a bargaining tool to carry on an illegitimate BJP-Ajit Pawar Govt in Maharashtra.
This is a blot on democracy.
‘Contract Killing’ of democracy is now synonymous with ‘Contract Killing’ of honesty & accountability.
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) November 25, 2019
“Contract killing” of democracy in Maharashtra has now also become “contract killing” of honesty and accountability, Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
“The only public interest decision taken in the last 48 hours is to close down the irrigation scam and the corruption cases by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to answer that is this the ‘Na Khaoonga na khaane doonga claim’. The BJP has become Bhrashtachar Jagao Party,” Surjewala added.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said the closing of the corruption cases is the “most brazen, most shameful act” of conspiracy, corrupt practice, quid-pro-quo unheard of even according to the levels to which certain parties have stooped. “It is reprehensible, we condemn it, it makes good all the points we have made, it shows that desperation by hook or by crook and more by crook and less by hook of the ruling party in somehow by corrupt and illegal means to form a government,” Singhvi told reporters.
Uproar in Parliament
The power tussle in Maharashtra reverberated in Parliament on Monday as Opposition members staged vociferous protests, forcing adjournment of proceedings in both the Houses, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi dubbing the developments in the state as “murder of democracy”. Rahul set the tone for the protests in the morning when he refused to ask a supplementary question during Question Hour in the lower house while two of his party MPs, Hibi Eden and TN Prathapam, carrying a big black banner that read ‘Stop murder of democracy’ entered the Well of the House.
The action of the two Congressmen drew the ire of Speaker Om Birla, who ordered marshals to remove the two lawmakers after his warning to them to go back to their seats went unheeded. However, other Congress members, carrying placards with messages such as “save Constitution” and “save democracy”, joined in and resisted their eviction from the House and were seen jostling with the marshals, prompting the speaker to adjourn the House till noon. “There is no point in me asking the question as democracy has been murdered in Maharashtra,” Rahul said amid the fracas.
Since the two Congress MPs were named by the Speaker, they were suspended for the day and were not present when the House reassembled at 2.00 PM. However, as the din continued, Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day. Sources said Birla wanted apology from the two Kerala MPs for storming the Well with the banner, but Congress was not ready to apologise. Outside the House, Birla said,”I am hurt by whatever happened in Parliament today. It is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.” Sources said it is being considered whether these two MPs can be suspended for five years for storming the Well of the House and obstructing Parliament proceedings by shouting slogans. While most Congress members were in the Well, those from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) also started raising slogans against the BJP-led Centre from their seats. Amid the sloganeering, four bills, including the one to amend the SPG Act, were introduced in Lok Sabha.
In Rajya Sabha, Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu rejected notices by Opposition members seeking discussion on the happenings in Maharashtra, evoking sharp reactions from them as they raised slogans, prompting Naidu to adjourn the House. Later at 2.00 PM when the House reassembled, the Congress, the Left, the DMK and other opposition members were up on their feet again, demanding discussion on the events in Maharashtra. Deputy Chairman Harivansh said since the issue is sub-judice, it cannot be discussed.
Congress members asked that if the matter was sub-judice, then why was Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi allowed to speak on the matter in the House. Earlier in the day, Naqvi had alleged that the Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP were trying to “hijack” democracy in Maharashtra through “jugad”. As the Opposition continued to stall proceedings, the Upper House was adjourned for the day. Meanwhile, outside Parliament, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that women parliamentarians of his party were “manhandled” in Lok Sabha when they were protesting in the Well of the House over the Maharashtra government formation. Congress MP from Tamil Nadu Jothimani alleged that she was “manhandled”.
“It is sad that Ramya Haridas and me were manhandled, we have lodged complaint with the Speaker,” she told reporters. Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi also raised the issue with the Speaker in his chamber saying that such incidents were uncalled for and should not happen, sources said. Countering Congress allegations, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted that Parliament cannot be allowed to become a place for “unruly” behaviour.
We outright condemn the reprehensible conduct of these MPs,” Prasad said and also criticised senior Congress leaders who did “nothing” to prevent them.
“These members have shamed Lok Sabha in front of the country,” he said. He was joined by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi and Arjun Ram Meghwal, Joshi’s deputy, and also rejected the Congress’ claim that the marshals misbehaved with its woman MPs in the House, saying “everybody saw what happened”.
Showdown in Supreme Court
Earlier, a Supreme Court bench of Justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna said it will pass an order at 10.30 am on Tuesday on the issue of floor test for the Maharashtra government led by Devendra Fadnavis whose swearing-in has been challenged by Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine. The deadline for the floor test was apprised by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who was representing Fadnavis.
In the House of 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, BJP is the single-largest party with 105 MLAs, followed by the Shiv Sena (56 MLAs), NCP (54 MLAs) and Congress (44 MLAs) The combine was pressing for the floor test on Monday itself, which was opposed by Fadnavis and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the secretary to governor, said: “The governor was immune to the proceedings in the apex court.”
He said the BJP had the support of all 54 NCP MLAs to form the government and asked for 2 to 3 days to file a reply to the combine’s plea by asserting that the Governor had, in his absolute discretion, invited the largest party to form the government on 23 November. “The governor was not supposed to conduct a roving and fishing inquiry to ascertain which party had the numbers to form government,” he said. After perusing Koshyari’s letter inviting Fadnavis, the bench said it has to be decided whether the chief minister enjoyed majority on the floor of the House.
Rohatgi said Fadnavis had Ajit Pawar’s letter of support of 170 MLAs. “It is nobody’s case that the documents submitted by Fadnavis to the governor are forged”. Rohatgi said that some kind of a feud was going on in the Pawar family. “One Pawar is with me, another Pawar is here in the Supreme Court,” he said, adding that the combine was unnecessarily alleging that some kind of horse-trading was going on.
“In fact, till Friday, they were indulging in horse-trading,” he added. “Now, the question is that can this court say whether a floor test can be ordered within a particular time-frame,” Rohatgi said. “The combine is asking the Supreme Court to decide how the governor and the Assembly should act,” he said, adding that it could not interfere with the House procedure, which is regulated by Assembly rules.
Lawyers trade horse-trading barbs
The hearing saw sparks flying and sharp words being exchanged between opposing counsel on allegations of horse-trading and Ajit Pawar. “This is not a case of horse-trading, but a case of one entire stable going the other way,” Mehta remarked. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal took note of the jibe and retorted: “The stable is still there, only the jockey (Ajit Pawar) has run away.”
Mehta then took another dig that there was an agreement to file one petition by the combine but too many counsel — Sibal, A M Singhvi and others — were appearing in the case. “The three parties can’t even agree to field a common counsel,” he said on a lighter note.