Devendra Fadnavis(Satish Bate/HT Photo)
Devendra Fadnavis(Satish Bate/HT Photo)

How the Supreme Court verdict may have tripped Devendra Fadnavis’ game plan

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his deputy Ajit Pawar resigned soon after the top court delivered its verdict on a petition filed by the three coalition partners, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.
Hindustan Times, New Mumbai | By Ketaki Ghoge
UPDATED ON NOV 26, 2019 08:01 PM IST

The Supreme Court verdict ordering a quick floor test for the Devendra Fadnavis-led government through an open ballot contributed to the collapse of the wobbly coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra, people familiar with the development said.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his deputy Ajit Pawar resigned soon after the top court delivered its verdict on a petition filed by the three coalition partners, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.

The court had not only given the Fadnavis government just one day to get the assembly’s confidence vote but also stipulated that the proceedings should be telecast live, conducted by a pro-tem speaker and held by an open ballot.

The BJP’s first reaction to the Supreme Court was one of confidence. State BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said that BJP would prove its majority in the House.

A BJP leader in Maharashtra said the party was prepared for the court ordering an early trust vote but was caught off guard by the conditions that followed.

The BJP, he said, had been relying on two things - Ajit Pawar’s status as legislative party leader of NCP and getting its Speaker elected through a secret ballot - to sail through the trust vote.

“It was over when the apex court verdict came in. We had gambled on Ajit Pawar and we fell because of that. The Supreme Court verdict came as the last nail,” a second BJP leader mentioned above said.

The confidence motion is generally administered after the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly gets elected. If there is more than one candidate, then the speaker’s election as per Maharashtra State Legislature rules, it is held by a secret ballot. The Speaker can then determine how the government proves its majority.

In 2014, the BJP proved its majority on the floor of the House through a voice vote after the Speaker was elected.

The BJP saw a repeat of this format as its best case scenario; where it can prove its floor test by a voice vote after it elects its speaker in a secret ballot.

“In a secret ballot once we elect our speaker, the floor test can be even done by a voice vote. It is easier to get your speaker elected as several MLAs, who want to back us can do that without being threatened by disqualification proceedings,’’ said a BJP leader.

However, experts say that parties can issue a whip even in case of a secret ballot.

“Parties issue 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,’’ said Anant Kalse, former principal secretary of the Maharashtra Legislature Secretariat.

That’s also why until Monday, two senior BJP leaders Raosaheb Danve and Ashish Shelar had insisted that Pawar was the real leader of the NCP legislative party and could issue whip for all 54 NCP MLAs. HT had reported that two opposing whips could have been issued for NCP MLAs on the day of voting.

Former state BJP chief and Union minister Raosaheb Danve had said: “The whip issued by Ajit Pawar will be applicable to all NCP MLAs. There should be no confusion about that.”

The NCP attempted to counter this effort by sending a formal communication to the speaker’s office and the governor that Jayant Patil, and not Ajit Pawar, was the leader of the NCP legislative party.

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