By Sushil Kutty
The Supreme Court Thursday refused to rule Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde out of his job because it was snatched from Uddhav Thackeray who should have faced the floor test and not fled the scene. The top court’s refusal was disappointing because everything else the court said prior to expressing helplessness gave one the impression Shinde will find himself jobless, and good riddance!
But nope! The Supreme Court held that it cannot order “restoration” of the Uddhav Thackeray government as he had “resigned without facing floor test” even though the Governor’s decision to hold the floor test was wrong and the Speaker had no right to appoint a Whip of the Shinde faction. In short, every step along the way of Shinde becoming Chief Minister was patently wrong but Chief Minister Eknath Shinde will keep his job and Uddhav Thackeray will cool his heels in relative joblessness.
The verdict is contradictory, but nothing can be done. The Speaker’s appointment of the Shinde faction’s Whip was wrong. The Governor was wrong in allowing a floor test. And, now, could the Supreme Court also be wrong? Common sense says we did not need the Supreme Court to tell us whether Eknath Shinde was legit Chief Minister, especially after Uddhav Thackeray forfeited the claim with his refusal to take the floor test and resigning without a fight.
To better understand the chronology, one will have to revisit the evening Thackeray packed his bags and with son Aditya Thackeray in tow left the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s official residence ‘Varsha’ to Thackeray family bastion ‘Matoshree’. Uddhav Thackeray had for all purposes willingly stepped down from the Chief Minister’s post. Eknath Shinde hadn’t put a gun to his head.
Also, the top court should’ve asked itself why Eknath Shinde’s revolt did not trigger a whole-scale counter-revolt in the rank and file of the Shiv Sena? The large majority of the Shiv Sainiks appeared resigned to Shinde and weren’t shedding tears for Uddhav Thackeray. There was no need for a Constitution bench to be appointed to get this simple truth to register.
But complicating matters is a national pastime and the Supreme Court cannot claim exemption. On the one hand, there is this lament about the humongous backlog of cases and, on the other hand, a tank-load of fresh, often meaningless, cases. The evening-before headlines in this case were pregnant with suspense: “Is this the ‘end’ for Shinde?”/“Will Shinde lose his job?”
The Supreme Court was all set to give a verdict on a batch of petitions on the political crisis that began with Shinde’s revolt to Shinde becoming Maharashtra Chief Minister. The split in the Shiv Sena was irrevocable. And there was a lot to argue; from the validity of Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s decision to ask former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to face a floor test to the validity of the Governor’s decision to ask Eknath Shinde to take the oath as Chief Minister.
Very important was the question, if the top court could restore a Chief Minister who had resigned his job without facing the floor test? The answers are now out in the open and though the Constitution bench appeared to surrender, the fact remains that fortune favours the bold. Eknath Shinde played his cards with clairvoyance!
Uddhav Thackeray did not leave the bench the slightest gap to manoeuvre. In the end the bench could say the Governor was wrong, but even after that could not restore Uddhav Thackeray to his previous chief ministerial glory. The Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray Shiv Sena will have to live with his faux pas. The top court cannot reinstate a Chief Minister who fled a crisis the first chance he got.
Uddhav Thackeray’s mentor Sharad Pawar just the other day revealed his misgivings about Uddhav Thackeray and his suitability for high-pressure jobs even while saying that if the BJP still had a Maharashtra foothold it was only because of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. Wednesday, May 10, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis maintained that Shinde was not going anywhere and the next elections would be fought under Shinde’s leadership.
The bottom line as set by CJI Chandrachud is “status quo ante cannot be restored”. Uddhav Thackeray refused to take the floor test and resigned. The Governor cannot be accused of administering the oath to Shinde to form the government with BJP support. The court has left it to the Speaker to sort out the mess. Till the Maharashtra crisis doesn’t end. (IPA Service)