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Supreme Court questions Koshyari’s floor test decision

A Constitution bench adjudicating on a batch of pleas pertaining to last year’s political crisis in Maharashtra has raised a number of questions on the role played by Maharashtra governor BS Koshyari.

The bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud asked why the governor called the floor test. “Trust vote is not to have a new political leader,” the CJI remarked. Speaking for the bench, he said, “the governor should not lend his office to effectuate a particular result. The mere fact that a floor test is called can also lead to precipitative action and toppling of the government. The threat to security cannot be a ground to call for a trust vote. At most, the governor can say that he is of the view that there is some difference between INC and NCP.” The CJI added that calling a floor test in such a scenario meant “virtually breaking a party”.

The CJI said that only three things were before the governor: “Firstly, the resolution by 34 rebel MLAs that they reaffirmed that leadership would be with Eknath Shinde. Secondly, the letter by 47 MLAs about the alleged threats to their lives and a letter by the leader of the Opposition. “Suppose there is a difference on a policy aspect. Can the governor on the basis of that ask to prove the majority by a trust vote,” the CJI asked.

Observing that the bench was concerned with the power of the governor, the CJI said, “we are very seriously concerned that the governor should not enter into this area where his action will precipitate a particular result. Suppose MLAs of a political party feel that our leader is not adhering to the basic ideology of the party. They can vote their leader out in a party forum. But can the governor ask them to face a floor test on the basis of this? This is a functioning government and it is in session.”

“Governors have manpower even after a government is formed. But in using these powers, governors cannot precipitate the fall of the government. It would be dangerous for democracy. Maharashtra is a highly cultured state. All these things that 40 dead bodies will come etc is said in politics. But you cannot say all of this for the power used by the governor. We are not condoning it and deeply concerned (about it) but the governors must use powers with utmost circumspection,” the CJI said.

Appearing on behalf of the governor, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the governor “has to see that a stable government continues, that is all. A democratically elected leader must face the floor test. Majority of the party did not enjoy this spectacle of the alliance.” The CJI then said, “but the majority members then broke bread with the others for three years. All of you were in a happy marriage and what happened suddenly? Three years you cohabit and then suddenly you say we are done. Enjoy the fruits of political office. Someone has to answer this.”

The CJI added “governor cannot be oblivious to the fact that in a three-party coalition the disruption is only in one party. None of the parties were sidekicks and had enough members…Irrespective of the governor feeling anything about pre or post poll alliance, this was a validly formed government. He (Governor) cannot say that a letter from 34 rebel MLAs will lead to shaking up the political party.”The CJI asked the counsel for the governor to show what convinced the governor that the government has lost confidence of the House. “We will make all assumptions in favour of the governor. The governor has to treat all these 34 as part of the Shiv Sena…why was the floor test called at all?”

The CJI said, “it was said that there is corruption in government, discontent within cadre of party and that alliance is against core ideology of the party. None of this can be a ground for a trust vote.”

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