The verdict of a Supreme Court bench on May 11 in Maharashtra’s power tussle, which said that it cannot restore the Uddhav Thackeray government as Thackeray had resigned on his own, has come as immediate relief to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. The Supreme Court has allowed the Speaker of the Assembly to decide on the issue of disqualification of 16 Shiv Sena’s rebel MLAs, including Chief Minister Shinde. At the same time, it has refused to intervene in the Election Commission’s decision to give the Shiv Sena party and symbol to Shinde.
For Uddhav Thackeray, the Supreme Court decision contained a morale booster as it heavily criticised the Governor’s conduct in the political battle. The bench said that the Governor’s decision to order a floor test for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government as well as his decision to appoint the whip nominated by the Shinde group were wrong.
The Court also referred the Nabam Rebia case regarding the Speaker’s power in the disqualification process to a seven-member bench, as demanded by Thackeray.
As the Court has refused to restore Thackeray as Chief Minister or ask Shinde to step down, the government is expected to survive for some more time. Since the matter has been referred to a full bench, the sword of disqualification continues to hang over Shinde and his 15 MLA colleagues.
Welcomed by both sides
The verdict has been welcomed by both sides. Thackeray claimed that his decision to resign and not face the floor test was politically wrong but morally right.
But Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that Thackeray’s comments on morality were unwanted. He said: “Thackeray should first clarify that when he got elected in 2019 in the alliance of BJP, who gave him the right to switch over to the Congress-NCP. Where was his morality at the time?”
Shinde claimed that the verdict was proof that his faction was legal and his government constitutional.
The verdict will certainly have a significant political impact in the State as well as on national politics. The survival of the the Shinde-BJP government will boost the BJP’s chances ahead of the local body elections, likely to be scheduled at the end of this year. It will also be politically beneficial for the BJP to have a government in Maharashtra, which has 48 Lok Sabha members, the second largest after Uttar Pradesh.
Also, the verdict will cement the Shiv Sena (Shinde)-BJP alliance and this could also result in some MVA leaders joining the BJP in the coming months.
On the other hand, Thackeray’s image might get a boost from public perception of his moral high ground. Some surveys have reported that a sympathy wave for him is visible across the State. The verdict will also impact the political equations within the MVA. NCP chief Sharad Pawar, in a recent extended version of his autobiography, expressed displeasure over Thackeray’s decision to resign without facing the floor test. Thus, Thackeray’s bargaining power within the MVA stands reduced after the verdict.
There are reports that three initial meetings regarding the formation of an alliance for the general election have already taken place among MVA leaders. It is likely that Thackeray will have to cede more space to his partners in seat sharing.
The matter of disqualification of 16 MLAs has to be decided by Speaker Rahul Narvekar now. He is a BJP MLA. While it is matter of comfort for Eknath Shinde and his 15 MLAs, his faction’s bargaining power with BJP has been reduced.
In the 2019 Assembly election, the BJP contested 162 seats and Thackeray 126. In the Lok Sabha election in 2019, the BJP fought in 26 seats and Thackeray in 22. It is highly unlikely that in the current situation, the BJP will follow the 2019 seat-sharing formula in the 2024 general election.