Ajit can still issue whip, says BJP
Even as the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party-Sena put up a united front by submitting a letter of 162 legislators supporting it to the Governor on Monday morning, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed it invalid. The BJP argued that deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar was the legislative party leader of the NCP and could issue a whip to all 54 of his party MLAs.
Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the chief minister on Saturday morning, with Pawar as his deputy. The BJP-led government was formed on the back of a support letter of 54 NCP MLAs submitted by Pawar. The NCP, since then, has removed Pawar and appointed state chief Jayant Patil as the leader of its legislative party.
“This letter is nothing, but a bid to mislead the public. It does not have signatures of group leaders. The Congress is yet to elect its group leader. And Ajit Pawar continues to be the leader of the NCP; he has not been removed from this post legally. He can issue a whip to NCP MLAs. The appointment of Jayant Patil as the group leader is not legal,” said BJP leader and former minister Ashish Shelar.
The BJP is counting on Pawar’s status as the legislative party leader of NCP to help it sail through the trust vote on the floor of the state assembly. HT has reported that two opposing whips are likely to be issued to NCP MLAs on the day of voting, which could lead to a protracted legal battle.
Former state BJP chief and Union minister Raosaheb Danve said, “The whip issued by Ajit Pawar will be applicable to all NCP MLAs. There should be no confusion about that.”
If MLAs vote against the whip, they can face disqualification proceedings under the anti-defection law.
The BJP is also hoping for a best case scenario – proving its majority on floor test by a voice vote after it elects its speaker in a secret ballot. “We are aiming to get 170-180 votes for the election of a Speaker. In a secret ballot, MLAs will vote for us as it is difficult to find out who voted against the party whip and hence there will be no fear of disqualification,” said a senior BJP leader.
However, experts said that a whip can be issued even for a secret ballot and anti-defection law applies in such a case. But they admit it is difficult to check the voting done by MLAs.
“Parties issue a whip as a deterrent in a secret ballot, but I don’t see how it can be verified. In some cases, parties devise their own method, as they know which MLAs can cross-vote. The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly rules say when there is more than one candidate for the Speaker’s post, the election is through a secret ballot,” said Anant Kalse, former principal secretary of the Maharashtra Legislature Secretariat.