ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Loss of Majority and Loss of Principles

The fall of the MVA government in Maharashtra leaves behind a residue of alarming precedents.

Suhas Palshikar writes:

Developments emanating from an internal crisis in Shiv Sena threw up many disturbing trends not only for politics in Maharashtra but also for parliamentary democratic procedures and competitive party politics more generally. Having lost support of the majority of his party members of legislative assembly (MLAs), Uddhav Thackeray could have resigned earlier and won at least a moral high ground. From the moment rebel MLAs took shelter at Surat and subsequently went sightseeing to Guwahati, it was clear that the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government had lost its majority. Thackeray was, however, hopeful that as per the constitutional scheme of things, defectors may be made to pay by losing their membership of the assembly. Unfortunately for him, the threat of the Anti-defection Law was blunted by judicial intervention. Once the floor test was cleared by the Supreme Court, he was left with no option but to quit.

Ever since the MVA government came to power in November 2019, observers felt that the three main partners will soon get embroiled in internal tussles and cause the fall of the coalition. But the government trudged along for two and a half years. When the fall came, it was not because of inter-party bickering but through internal disarray within the Shiv Sena. The fall of the Thackeray government, though inevitable, brought forth many worrisome trends.

The Marathi press has been full of commentaries during the past one week or so about how there were rumblings within the Shiv Sena for quite some time and how there was a disconnect between the MVA chief minister and his own party members. There must have been an element of truth in this since all the MLAs holding ministerial positions—except Aditya Thackeray—joined the rebel group.

Yet, is it not extremely surprising that Thackeray was completely unaware of the rebellion that was brewing. This tells us something about how political parties are run—at any rate, how the Shiv Sena was being run and how the leadership insulates itself from all reality. True, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went all out to cultivate the rebels, protect them, and win them a few more by employing investigating agencies and bringing about pressure besides allurements. As the leader of the rebels reportedly said, a great power (mahashakti) was helping him and the rebels from the outside. All this may be termed as “smart politics,” but it is high time that all parties seriously think about the distinction between cynical and smart politics. And the fact that the rebels had to flee to BJP-run states also speaks volumes about not only BJP’s support to them but also their own fragile unity. It is becoming a common practice for most states and parties to take MLAs to protected destinations on similar occasions. So, like most defections, the ones by Shiv Sena MLAs too lacked democratic openness or ideological cohesion. But all this cannot hide the organisational crisis that preceded the actual act of defection.

More worryingly, in the unfolding drama, two institutions involved themselves and set rather unfortunate precedents. When the matter went to the Supreme Court, the judiciary practically set aside the Tenth Schedule and disallowed the deputy speaker to take a decision on the question of defection and disqualification. Having thus tied the hands of the deputy speaker, the judiciary subsequently refused to stay the floor test. While both these criticisms may appear to be irrelevant against the backdrop of the loss of the majority, it is the precedent that matters more. The Anti-defection Law provides that the presiding officer of the house has the power to decide on disqualification. That fundamental principle was ignored in the Maharashtra case. The other institution that got involved, inevitably, was the office of the governor. From ordering the police to provide protection to families of the rebel MLAs to seeking to scrutinise the decisions of the government, the governor’s office became badly politicised. Therefore, the latter’s decision of ordering a floor test smacked of bad faith rather than upholding of democratic principles.

In other words, in the political drama that unfolded in Maharashtra, one could witness multiple institutional failures—party organisation as well as constitutional offices. Where does Maha­rashtra go from here?

The MVA government is gone. Having lost its majority, this was only inevitable. But even as the damage done by wrong precedents haunts us, the next question that emerges is about the logical culmination of the defections. Under the Anti-defection Law, the rebel MLAs will have to merge with some party and only then support a BJP leader so that a new coalition can come to power. It is to be seen whether this part of Anti-defection Law is followed. In all likelihood, the Shiv Sena MLAs will claim that they are the real Shiv Sena, thus not requiring them to merge with any party. This will gloss over the fact of their defection. In the post-truth era that we live in, it will be argued that there was no defection in the first place. Just as the judiciary bypassed the Anti-defection Law, politics will also bypass this law and treat the rebel MLAs as inheritors of the real Shiv Sena.

For the MVA, there was thus the loss of the majority, while for the larger political system, it represented the loss of many a principle. The BJP has posted a pyrrhic victory with which its dominance will now extend to Maharashtra. But that dominance will be somewhat marred by the huge cost paid in terms of principles and procedures.

 

 

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Updated On : 9th Jul, 2022
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