BJP camp insists Ajit Pawar’s whip will hold as leader of legislature party

The BJP argued that as Ajit was the legislature unit chief at the time of swearing in, his whip will be binding. But the NCP dismissed it, and pointed out that it already replaced Ajit as the leader of the legislature unit with Jayant Patil.
Legislators from the Nationalist Congress Party woke up on Saturday to news that their legislature party chief Ajit Pawar had broken ranks from his uncle and party chief Sharad Pawar(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)
Legislators from the Nationalist Congress Party woke up on Saturday to news that their legislature party chief Ajit Pawar had broken ranks from his uncle and party chief Sharad Pawar(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)
Updated on Nov 25, 2019 04:12 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Mumbai | By

Legislators from the Nationalist Congress Party woke up on Saturday to news that their legislature party chief Ajit Pawar had broken ranks from his uncle and party chief Sharad Pawar, and backed Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister of Maharashtra. By evening, the party had convened a meeting of its MLAs and removed him as the legislature party chief.

But a day later, questions arose over whether the NCP’s legislators will be bound by a whip issued by Ajit before a trust vote in the assembly that may decide the fate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government.

The BJP argued that as Ajit was the legislature unit chief at the time of swearing in, his whip will be binding. But the NCP dismissed it, and pointed out that it already replaced Ajit as the leader of the legislature unit with Jayant Patil.

A whip is a directive issued to lawmakers binding them to vote in accordance with their party line. Any flouting of the whip may result in disqualification of the legislator.

When Ajit was sworn in as the deputy CM on Saturday morning, he was still the NCP legislature party chief, and furnished governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari with a letter of support from the party’s 54 MLAs.

Therefore, a senior BJP leader argued that any whip issued by Ajit – to vote for the BJP-led formation, for example – would be binding on the party’s 54 legislators during a floor test.

But a senior NCP leader said the party replaced him on Saturday evening. His replacement, Jayant Patil, met the governor on Sunday and submitted a letter with signatures of 41 MLAs electing him as the new legislature unit head. The NCP argued that in the case of a floor test, the whip issued by Patil will hold, not Ajit.

For his part, Ajit has indicated that he is not giving up his claim on the NCP. In a tweet on Sunday evening, he said, “I am in the NCP and shall always been in the NCP…”

Constitutional experts say the debate falls in a grey area and one cannot rule out the possibility of two opposing whips issued for the NCP, one by Ajit and another by Patil, on the day of the trust vote.

“There are conflicting opinions on this issue. I personally feel that Patil, who now represents the NCP, as the leader of the legislative party, can only issue a whip on the day of the confidence vote. The NCP has removed Ajit Pawar in a party meeting. The speaker can adjudicate on this but he has not yet been appointed,’’ said Ulhas Bapat, a constitutional expert.

Former Maharashtra advocate general Shreehari Aney said there could be a scenario of two opposing whips but added that he believed Ajit was technically on “weaker ground’’ as the party had every right to change their group leader.

“The whip is to convey the decision of the party. If the decision is not to vote for the BJP, then the whip can’t be opposing that. The NCP can pass a resolution saying that they will not vote for the BJP. But, at the end of the day, how majority of the legislators vote despite the whip will decide if the government falls or stays,’’ said Aney.

Acting against the whip can attract disqualification procedures under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, the anti-defection law. The disqualification is decided by the speaker based on a petition given a party or a member. Bapat said that unless Ajit has the support of 36 NCP legislators – two-thirds of the party’s assembly strength - he and his supporters can face action under the anti-defection law.

But a second BJP leader argued that getting NCP legislators disqualified may hurt the opposition coalition as it may bring down the strength of the House. “In any case getting its own MLAs disqualified is not something that NCP would want with just 54 legislators, whether the group is from Ajit Pawar’s side or Sharad Pawar’s side. That’s why we think ultimately the entire party will support us,” said the leader.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ketaki Ghoge is an associate editor with Hindustan Times. Based in Mumbai, she covers politics and governance in Maharashtra. Journalist for the last 13 years, Ketaki enjoys dicing government policies, administration and analysing politics of the day.

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