Maharashtra case: SC asks Centre, Fadnavis to show letters of BJP staking claim, Governor’s invite by tomorrow

The Supreme Court on Sunday put on hold a plea for ordering a floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly till it examined records which may shed light on what led Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to invite BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis to form the government and swear him in as Chief Minister on November 23.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana requested Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, in his capacity as the Centre’s law officer, to place on record before the court by 10.30 a.m. on November 25 the letter of Mr. Fadnavis to the Governor staking claim to form the government. Mr. Mehta was also asked to produce the Governor’s order of November 23.

Though Mr. Mehta sought time till Tuesday (November 26) to produce the documents, the Bench insisted he hand it over on Monday itself.

The order came after Mr. Mehta submitted that the Centre was authorised to call for all the documents from both the State government and the Governor.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for some Maharashtra BJP MLAs and independents, ridiculed the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine for “disturbing the Supreme Court and us on a Sunday” with their “urgent requests” for a floor test in Maharashtra in the next 24 hours. Mr. Rohatgi said they have filed “a petition without annexures”.

“They have no documents. When the court asks them for information, they say ‘we don’t know’. Why do they not first go and ask the Governor for all the details? Why did they rush to the Supreme Court?” Mr. Rohatgi asked and added that the case could very well be heard after “two or three days”.

But senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for Shiv Sena, said the political combine could prove its majority on Sunday itself.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for the NCP and the Congress, said if Mr. Fadnavis’s claim that he had a majority was true, why was he nervous about proving it in the House within the next 24 hours.

‘Shroud of mystery’

Mr. Singhvi said there was a “shroud of mystery” over how the Governor made up his mind to suddenly invite Mr. Fadnavis to form the government, shortly after the President’s Rule was revoked at 5.47 a.m. on November 23.

“We [Shiv Sena] announced our intention to form the government at 7 p.m. on November 22. Suddenly, the President’s Rule is revoked at 5.47 the next day without a Cabinet meeting… Why? Was this a matter of national emergency? And then we see Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar sworn in a closed-door ceremony,” Mr. Sibal argued.

Mr. Singhvi submitted that BJP claimed majority with the NCP’s support led by Mr. Ajit Pawar. “But on the previous day (November 22) 41 of the total 54 elected members of the NCP had rejected Ajit Pawar as their legislative party leader. How can BJP claim that Pawar is NCP when 41 NCP members have rejected him… This shows the Governor did not apply his mind,” Mr. Singhvi argued.

‘Instructions from above’

“What are the facts, resolutions? What was the nature of invitation of the Governor showing he was prima facie satisfied about Fadnavis enjoying majority? Nothing is available in the public domain. This is bizarre. This suggests the Governor acted under direct instructions from ‘above’,” Mr. Sibal submitted.

They submitted that the “Governor’s action was suspect”. Mr. Singhvi pointed out that, in such cases, the Supreme Court had always ordered for an immediate floor test.

Countering this, Mr. Rohatgi said the very petition filed under Article 32 (invoked when the State violates the fundamental rights of citizens) was not maintainable as the petitioners here were “political parties and not human beings”. But Justice Sanjiv Khanna said this was a technical objection and the court was empowered to look into whether the series of events which led to the formation of new government had undermined the basic principles of democracy.

Mr. Rohatgi then invoked Article 361 of the Constitution which provided both the President and the Governor immunity from legal action by courts for acts done in exercise of their official functions.

Mr. Rohatgi further said the court could not order the House to conduct a floor test.

“The Supreme Court should respect the House as the House respects the Supreme Court,” Mr. Rohatgi argued.

On the petitioner parties’ plea for immediate floor test, Mr. Rohatgi said the election got over on October 24 and “they were sleeping for 19 days, now they want a floor test to be conducted today itself…”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said political parties do not have fundamental right to form the government and their plea can’t be allowed.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for some BJP and Independent MLAs, said the plea filed by the combine should have been filed in Bombay High Court.

The court has further said that it will pronounce its verdict on the petition on Monday morning at 10:30 am and till then Devendra Fadnavis and the BJP has some time to gather enough support.