No number of precedents or citing of parliamentary procedures can justify the passage of Devendra Fadnavis's trust motion in the Maharasthra assembly by a voice vote. For the purest voice in parliamentary democracy is the actual vote, not supportive ayes.
As no party in the assembly wanted to bring down the government, the Speaker's argument that the Opposition missed the moment to seek a division might pass the test of legislative rules permitting voice votes on legislations having a House consensus. But a trust motion carried through a voice vote isn't tenable in the realm of propriety, transparency and fair play.
A telling example of the inadequacies of a voice vote is the Vajpayee government's one-vote 1999 defeat in the Lok Sabha. Such a narrow loss of majority could never have been established except through a formal vote, a division.
A government's legitimacy is proportional to the numbers it commands in the legislature. For that reason, a confidence motion needs clarity beyond an iota of doubt.
Certain experts in parliamentary practices have argued that division can be sought on any legislation that comes before the House to expose the regime's "minority" character. The facetiousness of these averments needs no underscoring - the BJP avoiding the vote to hide its legislative dependence on the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) it had termed as a "naturally corrupt party" before the polls.
It isn't a wee bit serendipitous that the Maharashtra controversy - which has the opposition minus the NCP up in arms - comes close on the heels of a law that makes voting mandatory in local body elections in Gujarat. For diametrically opposite reasons, the constitutionality of that move is as much in dispute.
"It's messy. We could have handled it better in Maharashtra," admitted a BJP leader. "How can we force people to vote while not agreeing to a count in a confidence motion?" he wondered.
The unedifying events raise also the question whether the 1996 Supreme Court judgment in the SR Bommai case was adequate - given that it mandates the assembly as the form for the test of a regime's legislative strength without prescribing the mechanism to ascertain numbers. It's that grey area in the court's pronouncement the Maharashtra government exploited to avoid a vote count.