The Supreme Court’s order Tuesday for a floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly on November 27 will gladden hearts as it came on Constitution Day, which was celebrated with customary pomp at Parliament House just after the court’s order was passed. The three-member bench of Justices N.V. Ramanna, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna appears to have accepted the plea of the petitioners — the Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena combine — in toto as it also gave them satisfaction on two other counts — that the test of strength be conducted by a pro-tem Speaker and not a regular Speaker; and the entire exercise be videographed (in the interest of transparency), with the result to be submitted to the court.
Each of these points of the petitoners had been contested by the BJP and the Central government. These entities had desired more time for the proposed floor test despite their claim to having the needed majority. Evidently, the court saw through the game, and in its order noted that delaying the vote of confidence in the government (sworn in by the governor in suspicious circumstances early on November 23) may leave room open for horse-trading.
It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court order was passed after examination by it of two documents, which became the basis of the BJP’s claim to have the right to form the government in association with Ajit Pawar, who seems to have played a trick to append the names (and signatures taken in a different context) of all 54 NCP MLAs while supporting BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis’ case to be CM again. These documents are the list of MLAs presented to the governor backing Mr Fadnavis’ bid, and the governor’s formal invitation to the BJP aspirant to take the oath.
The Supreme Court’s order is suggestive of the fact that it did not find the governor’s decision to appoint Mr Fadnavis to be based on material that was reliable. This is an indirect indictment of the role of governor B.S. Koshyari, an old RSS hand and a fomer Uttarakhand CM, whose conduct in this case appears to have been coloured by partisanship.
Should he, then, put in his papers? Any self-respecting person should do so in such circumstances, though a formal requirement may not exist since the court made no direct comment.
In fast-moving developments hours after the court order, evidently realising he did not have the numbers, Devendra Fadnavis resigned as chief minister, just after his deputy Ajit Pawar too submitted his resignation. Mr Fadnavis said the BJP would now sit in Opposition and not “indulge in horse-trading”. With Ajit Pawar back in the NCP fold, the chances of that succeeding were slim anyway. The stage appears set for the Sena-NCP-Congress to come to power as all eyes turn, once again, to the governor’s office. These are testing times for India’s democracy.