SC asks Centre to place Maha Guv's letter; rival alliances claim majority

Devendra Fadnavis

The government formation in Maharashtra has come under the Supreme Court's scrutiny with the Centre being asked to produce before the court on Monday morning the letters of the Governor inviting Devendra Fadnavis as well as the communication of the BJP leader staking his claim.

As the stunning political drama shifted to the apex court on Sunday, a day after Fadnavis returned as the chief minister, the Shiv Sena claimed that the Sena-NCP-Congress combine has a support of 165 MLAs and can comfortably prove its majority in the Assembly. The BJP also claimed that Fadnavis had the support of 170 MLAs. The majority mark in a House of 288 is 145.

In an unprecedented special hearing on a Sunday, a bench of Justices N V Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna, however, rejected the plea by the 3-party combine to direct the Fadnavis government to undertake the floor test within 24 hours, saying this issue would be dealt with only after perusing the two letters.

According to BJP leader Ashish Shelar, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has given time till November 30 to the new government to prove its majority on the floor of the House.

During the 30-minute hearing that began at 11.30 a.m in a packed court room, the apex court said the plea of the post-poll alliance, 'Maha Vikas Aghadi', seeking a direction to the Governor to invite them to form government under the leadership of Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray would not be considered for the present.

Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in by Koshyari at 8 am on Saturday at a hush hush ceremony in Raj Bhavan in Mumbai after dramatic midnight developments, leading to the lifting of the President's rule. The BJP was propped up by NCP's Ajit Pawar who revolted against his party headed by his uncle Sharad Pawar. Ajit Pawar was made the deputy chief minister.

The top court also issued notices to the Centre, Maharashtra government, Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar on the petition filed on Saturday night by the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party(NCP)-Congress combine against the Governor's decision to swear in the BJP leader as the chief minister.

Ajit Pawar, meanwhile, set the political circles abuzz with his statement that he is still with the NCP and that Sharad Pawar continued to be his leader. Sharad Pawar for his part said, there is no question of forming an alliance with the BJP. "Ajit Pawar's statement is false, misleading and aimed at creating confusion, false perception among people."

"As adjudication of the issues and also the interim prayers sought by the petitioners to conduct floor test within 24 hours has to be considered after perusing the order of the Governor as well as the letters submitted by Devendra Fadnavis even though none appeared for the state government, we request Tushar Mehta to produce those two letters by tomorrow morning at 10.30 AM when the matter will be taken up, so that appropriate order will be passed," the top court said.

Tushar Mehta, who was in the court, is the Solicitor General.

The bench also rejected Mehta's strong pleas seeking two days time to place the Governor's communication on record

As the NCP, the Congress and the Shiv Sena shifted their MLAs to three luxury hotels in Mumbai, the rival alliances claimed majority support. Security was tightened outside the hotels to thwart any poaching attempts, police said.

"The Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress (together) have 165 MLAs. If the governor calls for an identification parade, in 10 minutes we can prove our majority," Sena leader Sanjay Raut told reporters.

Talking to reporters, BJP's Ashish Shelar claimed that Fadnavis has the support of more than 170 MLAs and the BJP government will prove its majority on the floor of the House. He did not elaborate.

In the 288-member Assembly, BJP is the single largest party with 105 MLAs, followed by Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress party having 56, 54 and 44 members respectively.

NCP leader Nawab Malik said the swearing-in took place on the basis of bogus documents and that Fadnavis does not have the numbers.

Malik also said that out of the five NCP MLAs reported 'missing' till Sunday morning, two returned and another one posted a message on social media stating he was with the NCP.

There was a flurry of meetings with Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray meeting Sharad Pawar at the suburban hotel where the NCP MLAs were staying.

Fadnavis, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil and Union minister Raosaheb Danve were among those present at a meeting held at the Mumbai BJP office Vasant Smriti in Dadar, party sources said

Ajit Pawar while responding to Narendra's Modi's congratulatory message thanked the prime minister.

"Thank you Hon. Prime Minister @narendramodi ji. We will ensure a stable Government that will work hard for the welfare of the people of Maharashtra," he tweeted.

NCP sources said the tweet was an indication that Ajit Pawar had rejected emotional pleas by his partymen to rescind his decision to back the BJP.

Ajit Pawar, meanwhile, returned to his private residence near Churchgate in the early hours of Sunday and later met his supporters and some party leaders. He spent Saturday at his brother's home in Mumbai.

Demanding a floor test immediately, the Congress alleged that the BJP is "running away" from proving a majority in the Assembly as it does not have the required numbers.

Congress leader and former state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in a joint plea by the Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena said they have sought the Supreme Court's intervention to order a floor test immediately.

During the court hearing, Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the Shiv Sena, said the way President's rule was revoked in the state at 5.17 AM was "bizarre" as no cabinet meeting was held and it was not clear as to on what basis the Governor recommended it.

He also questioned the way Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn-in as the chief minister and deputy chief minister at 8 AM saying it was "shrouded with mystery" and no documents were available in public domain as to how the government was formed.

Sibal said that the combine has the majority in the 288-member Assembly and Fadnavis should be asked to immediately show his strength on the floor of the house.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, who represented the NCP and the Congress, said that the Governor's invite to Fadnavis to form the government was a "betrayal" and "annihilation of democracy" as 41 out of the 54 elected MLAs of the NCP are not with Ajit Pawar.

Singhvi said out of 54 MLAs of the NCP, 41 members have sent a signed letter to the Governor in which they had clearly said that Ajit Pawar is no more in the party and the support letter given by him to Fadnavis was "illegal".

"How on earth Ajit Pawar became the deputy chief minister when 41 MLAs says they are with the NCP and not with Ajit Pawar? Is this not a murder of democracy?," he said.

When Singhvi referred to earlier apex court verdicts to buttress his arguments that immediate floor test even without secret ballot was the only solution to prove majority in the house, the bench said, "Nobody is disputing that. It is a settled principle that floor test is the ultimate test".

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