The Indian Express | 4 days ago | 24-06-2022 | 11:45 am
Congress president Sonia Gandhi Thursday appointed Abhishek Singhvi, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) spokesman, as a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, along with a few other names. In an interview with The Indian Express, Singhvi spoke on a range of burning issues. Excerpts:How do you see your elevation as a CWC member?Undoubtedly, it is a matter of great honour, privilege and pleasure. Personally, I see this apex decision-making body of the Congress as representing firstly, geographical diversity, secondly, community diversity, and thirdly, a kind of a brains trust or an in-house think tank. The third element needs to be reinforced and reinvigorated.On the Presidential election, there is a sense that the Opposition lacked imagination. And the Congress, the main Opposition party, simply sat back and let the other parties come up with names and agreed on the name on which there was wider acceptance. Why?I don’t quite agree with this formulation for the reason that firstly, the paramount consideration has to be consensus. There cannot be “ekla chalo” model on the President’s selection. Secondly, Gopal Krishna Gandhi was our choice more than five years ago and was again a front-runner this time. One cannot be blamed if for a variety of reasons he declined gracefully. Yashwant Sinha is a powerful name with rich experience and represents a thinking process about whatever is wrong with the BJP. I do not mean the slightest disrespect to the NDA candidate and she has every right to vigorously campaign and claim the Presidency but that should not detract from the continuous efforts of every segment of the Opposition for the last several days to provide a very respectable ideological opponent.On the ED’s questioning of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress has been attacking the government accusing it of misusing the agency. The party has called the ED’s summoning “illegal”. Then why hasn’t the party approached the court or taken a legal recourse?It’s completely wrong to suggest that “confinement by questioning” or “detention through questioning” for 55 hours over 5 days can be attacked only by going to court. The whole point is that there’s nothing to go to court about. Interminable questioning was intended for harassment, heaping insults and political objectives. Certainly Rahul Gandhi could have sought anticipatory bail but we had resolutely decided not to do so because he was confident in standing up to such intimidation. How can the ED first act perversely and unreasonably and then put the ball in our court saying we should seek legal redress for their unreasonable behaviour.I can personally tell you that when the summons for questioning first came to Sonia Gandhi, it was difficult to restrain her from going even with Covid at the initial stage. She has been raring to go and will go immediately when medical advice permits. However, elementary medical knowledge tells us that exposure to collateral infection must be avoided, especially at her age, and that is the simple reason why time has been sought.First, let me briefly address the political part. No doubt this is a storm which should have been partly combated preventively. But one must never brush aside the humongous immoral conduct of the BJP. Luxury buses, 3 or 4 jets, trans-Indian coverage from Surat to Guwahati and over 70 rooms in luxury hotels and resorts do not come cheap. All escorts were provided by BJP leaders visible on camera and all protection by police of BJP-ruled states. Now we know how 90% of the money from electoral bonds which admittedly and officially goes to the ruling party is utilised. They are the last persons who have any right to preach or moralise or feign ignorance.Turning now to the legal, the options are limited because all of them, first and foremost, depend on the numbers. However, firstly any Chief Minister can recommend dissolution (of the Assembly) subject to the caveat that a Governor is not obliged to accept that recommendation if there is sufficient material to show that the recommendation is based upon a minority support. Secondly, the Governor is within his or her rights to order a floor test if some group so claims and the Governor on demonstrable material finds that the incumbent does not have numbers. Thirdly, the anti-defection law clearly kicks in but is unfortunately time-consuming. Thus, while in a properly constituted complaint with sufficient natural justice for hearing, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker would be fully entitled to disqualify those who have jumped ship, that may practically be of no use given the time lag involved. Fourthly, Indian genius has found enough ways of circumventing the anti-defection law by resigning, creating artificial deductions in the total pool of voting and then after toppling the government by such illegal shenanigans getting re-appointed as ministers with a six month window left for the election. Fifthly, if by any last minute retrieval, Uddhav Thackeray gets the numbers, he himself is entitled to call for a vote of confidence. Unfortunately, in all of this the Congress remains an outsider but a self-professed clear strong supporter (of Thackeray).On the contrary, I believe the Aghadi (MVA coalition) has had a highly desirable convergence of views to the center point of reasonableness of the Hindu religion. Aghadi is absolutely right in saying that this is the brand of Hinduism which is true Hinduism and not the distorted, politically expedient and hyperventilating, breast-beating of the BJP. In that sense a lot of aberrations and distortions have been ironed out to the golden mean which Aghadi has adopted.Undoubtedly, the elections will happen on time. And undoubtedly everyone is free to stand. And we must all respectfully await the results. Naysayers and doomsdayers will keep on creating negative scenarios because it does not suit their script. There is a wait of hardly a few months and we must therefore all await the eating-of-the-pudding before sermonising.You are also the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home. The committee is travelling to the Northeast. What is on its agenda?I’m equally privileged to be the Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home not only because it’s an extremely important committee but because its remit covers the wide vistas from the Northeast to issues of national security to a huge swathe of paramilitary forces and to the vital themes of Center-state relations and federalism. On these issues, we have already started discussions on infiltration and security and border security in the Northeast. We have already examined the CRPF and ITBP. Indeed, the trip to the Northeast was already finalised and about to take off from 25th to 30th but was postponed because of the terrible floods and landslides and logical difficulties.Lastly, Kapil Sibal, one of the key G-23 leaders, has left the Congress and some of the leaders of the group have been placated with positions. How do you see the development and the activities of the dissident or reformist group?As Mr Sibal has rightly refused to comment on the Congress, the latter should equally rightly reciprocate. As far as your larger question on G-23 is concerned, I believe that the primary justification of such a grouping can only be suggestions for reform, which were intensively discussed and openly thrashed for over three days at the Udaipur Shivir. With (internal) elections round the corner, I think every legitimate demand of this G-23 has either been met or about to be met.
While granting interim relief to rebel MLAs of the Shiv Sena on Monday, the Supreme Court made a crucial but unusual judicial intervention that raises questions on the powers of the Speaker under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. The Speaker’s powers under the Tenth Schedule have been previously upheld by the Supreme Court itself; the court has allowed judicial review only once the Speaker has made a decision, and has ruled out interference with the process.The question of when a floor test will be held in the Maharashtra Assembly, meanwhile, remains unclear. BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis met Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari late on Tuesday.What does the interim order say?The interim order grants more time to the rebel MLAs — until July 11 — to reply to the disqualification notice served on them. It seeks affidavits from them, and also a counter-affidavit from the Deputy Speaker on his removal as demanded by the rebels.In granting more time, the Supreme Court has essentially delayed the disqualification proceedings, which would have a direct impact on atrust vote in the Assembly, whenever it takes place.The issue of considering the removal of the Deputy Speaker himself is more complex and raises questions on the sanctity of the Tenth Schedule.What does the Tenth Schedule say?The Tenth Schedule or the anti-defection law, introduced in 1985, gives the Speaker of the House the power to disqualify legislators who ‘defect’ from the party. In the landmark case Kihoto Hollohan versus Zachillhu in 1992, the Supreme Court upheld the power vested in the Speaker and said that only the final order of the Speaker will be subject to judicial review.Courts have refrained from interfering with the process itself.However, a 2016 ruling of a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has shifted the balance on the powers of the Speaker. In the landmark Nabam Rebia v Bemang Felix case, concerning a constitutional crisis in Arunachal Pradesh then, a five-judge Bench of the SC limited the Speaker’s powers.What was the Nabam Rebia ruling?While the larger legal issue in the Nabam Rebia ruling was on the contours of the powers and limitations of the Governor, the issue of anti-defection also came up. On that point, the Supreme Court held that it is “constitutionally impermissible” for a speaker to proceed with disqualification proceedings, if a no-confidence motion against him is pending.“The action of the Speaker in continuing, with one or more disqualification petitions under the Tenth Schedule, whilst a notice of resolution for his own removal, from the office of Speaker is pending, would ‘appear’ to be unfair. If a Speaker truly and rightfully enjoys support of the majority of the MLAs, there would be no difficulty whatsoever, to demonstrate the confidence which the members of the State Legislature, repose in him,” the Supreme Court ruled.This ruling gave a window to defecting legislators to stall or circumvent the Tenth Schedule by seeking removal of the Speaker when disqualification proceedings are anticipated — effectively tying the hands of the Speaker.Have legislators used this legal route?Yes, since 2016, this legal route has a been a familiar playbook for legislators cutting across states and political affiliations.In 2016, rebel MLAs of the Congress including Vijay Bahuguna sought removal of Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal after shifting ranks to the BJP to stall anti-defection proceedings.In 2018, AIADMK legislator S Karunas sent a notice to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Secretary K Srinivasan, seeking removal of Speaker P Dhanapal at a time when the AIADMK leadership was mulling action against Karunas and three other MLAs for having pledged their support to T T V Dhinakaran.In June 2020, the Congress in Manipur served a notice for the removal of Speaker Y Khemchand as nine of its MLAs defected to the BJP.How can the Speaker be removed?Under Article 179 of the Constitution, a Speaker can be removed by a resolution of the Assembly passed by a majority of “all the then members of the Assembly”. The process begins with notice of at least 14 days.In the 2016 Nabam Rebia ruling, the Supreme Court interpreted Article 179, specifically the term “all the then members of the Assembly”, to mean the composition of the house at the date/time of giving the notice for the removal of the Speaker. This interpretation would mean that the composition of the Assembly cannot be changed from the date of issuing of a notice of the removal of the Speaker, and therefore the Speaker cannot make any decisions under the Tenth Schedule to change the composition of the House until the question of his removal is settled.During the hearing on the Maharashtra situation, senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs, referred to the 2016 Nabam Rebia ruling to argue that the Deputy Speaker of an Assembly cannot decide on disqualification of MLAs while a motion for his or her removal is pending.What were the reasons for the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision?The Supreme Court’s reasoning in barring the Speaker from acting under the Tenth Schedule when a notice for his own removal is pending, is to ensure that the Speaker who disqualifies legislators must enjoy the confidence of the Assembly.“After all, disposal of the motion under Article 179(c), would take no time at all. As soon as the motion is moved, on the floor of the House, the decision thereon will emerge, forthwith. Why would a Speaker who is confident of his majority, fear a floor test? After his position as Speaker is affirmed, he would assuredly and with conviction, deal with the disqualification petitions, under the Tenth Schedule. And, why should a Speaker who is not confident of facing a motion, for his removal, have the right to adjudicate upondisqualification petitions, under the Tenth Schedule?” the Supreme Court had said in Nabam Rebia.This interpretation would mean defection is followed by an immediate floor test and not proceedings of the Tenth Schedule. A floor test is the ultimate step in ascertaining majority in the House, but legal experts have criticised that 2016 interpretation saying it would not lead to ascertaining “real majority” that is determined after punishing defecting MLAs.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has lost majority in house and a floor test is in order, the BJP told the Governor this evening. The party delegation was led by Devendra Fadnavis, who headed for the meet on his return from Delhi. Here are the Top 10 points in this big story:"We have written to the Governor and told him that Shiv Sena's 39 MLAs are repeatedly saying they don't want to be in an alliance with the Congress-NCP. This means they are not with the government," Devendra Fadnavis told reporters after the meeting."So we have told the Governor that he should ask the Chief Minister to conduct a floor test and prove majority," he added.Mr Fadnavis -- the predecessor of Uddhav Thackeray on the top post -- headed for the Governor's House straight from the airport. He was accompanied by Girish Mahajan and state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil.In Delhi, Mr Fadnavis had a 30-minute strategy session with BJP chief JP Nadda this evening amid speculation about the party staking claim to form government.Earlier today, sources had said the Governor may ask Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove majority this week.The Team Thackeray had requested the Supreme Court that no floor test be allowed till the matter of disqualification notices to 17 rebel MLAs be settled. The court has refused to pass orders on it.In a day of fast-paced developments, Mr Thackeray sought a meeting with the rebels on their return to Mumbai, which is likely on Thursday."I want to appeal to you - time is still not lost. Please come, sit with me, remove all doubts from the minds of Shiv Sainiks and the public, then we can find a way out. We can sit together and find a way out," Mr Thackeray wrote.Eknath Shinde, who is leading the coup aganst Uddhav Thackeray, said that he would go to Mumbai "soon" and "take Balasaheb Thackeray's legacy forward", indicating that he is ready for the next move. He claims he has the backing of around 50 MLAs, nearly 40 of them from the Shiv Sena.The Shiv Sena has accused the BJP of masterminding the revolt and hounding its leaders using investigating agencies. Uddhav Thackeray's key spokesperson, Sanjay Raut, was summoned today by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case but he refused to go. Mr Raut terms the summons a conspiracy. Comments
◾ A tailor in Udaipur was hacked to death today by two persons allegedly for posting a social media statement in favour of suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, who had made controversial remarks about Prophet Mohammad. With the city tense following the murder, internet services have been suspended, and 600 police personnel along with senior officers are being sent to Udaipur. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has appealed for peace. “Strict action will be taken against all the criminals involved in this incident and the police will go to the bottom of the crime. I appeal to all parties to maintain peace,” he said.◾ Meanwhile, in Delhi, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was sent to four-day police custody over a 2018 tweet that allegedly hurt religious sentiments. On Zubair’s arrest, Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes: “The arrest of journalist Mohammed Zubair in Delhi is pettiness, vengeance and repression let loose on a society once aspiring to be free. It is also a distillation of the way in which the Narendra Modi government draws energy from a thorough contempt for liberty, decency, constitutional values, and the opinion of the international community.”◾ In Maharashtra, where the political turmoil refuses to abate, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealed to rebel Shiv Sena MLAs to return, saying he is “worried” about them. “Don’t fall prey to anyone’s missteps. The honour given to you by Shiv Sena cannot be found anywhere. If you come forward and speak, we will sort out the issues. As Shiv Sena party chief and family head, I am still worried about you. Come here for a dialogue,” he said. His appeal came hours after Rebel leader Eknath Shinde said he will soon return to Mumbai.◾ In other news from the city, four people were killed after a helicopter operating for the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) made an emergency landing off the Mumbai coast. The chopper, with nine people on board, ditched in the sea 60 nautical miles away from Mumbai near Sagar Kiran rig on Tuesday morning.◾ In business news, the GST Council today approved changes in tax rates on some goods and services while allowing states to issue an e-way bill for intra-state movement of gold and precious stones. The Council, chaired by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, also cleared a host of compliance procedures for GST-registered businesses along with a GoM report on high-risk taxpayers to check evasion.◾ Mukesh Ambani has resigned from the board of his group’s telecom arm, Reliance Jio and handed over the reins of the company to elder son Akash, a step seen as succession planning by the 65-year old billionaire. In a stock exchange filing, Reliance Jio Infocomm said the company’s board at a meeting on June 27, “approved the appointment of Akash M Ambani, non-executive director, as chairman of the board of directors of the company.”Political Pulse◾ The BJP is hoping for gains beyond the immediate in its storming of the Samajwadi Party bastions of Rampur and Azamgarh Lok Sabha seats in the recent bypolls. The planning and strategy to secure the constituencies, supervised by senior leader Amit Shah as per sources, have punched holes in the SP’s confidence in its loyal Muslim-Yadav vote bank. The results also fit in with the BJP’s Mission 2024 plans, which it has already set in motion. With the SP having mounted a creditable challenge to it in the recent Assembly elections, the BJP knows the party as the one to beat in the state, and these two seats were its best chance of sending a message to the party. Liz Mathew reports.◾ From the Urdu Press: As a major political turmoil roiled Maharashtra with an intra-Shiv Sena power struggle pushing the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government to the brink, the country’s leading Urdu newspapers provided its saturation coverage in their news and commentary pages. In their reporting and analysis, they also focused on the July 18 Presidential election, the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Zakia Jafri’s appeal challenging the SIT’s clean chit to the then chief minister Narendra Modi and others in the 2002 Gujarat riots, spotlighting the subsequent arrests of activist-journalist Teesta Setalvad and ex-DGP RB Sreekumar.Express Explained◾ ‘Hermit’ is the latest sophisticated spyware in the news, and it is believed to have targeted iPhones and Android devices in Italy and Kazakhstan. Hermit’s deployment – the spyware has been developed by an Italian vendor called RCS Lab – was first reported by cyber security researchers at the Lookout, a San-Francisco-based cybersecurity firm. What is Hermit, what exactly does it do on a device, and how can users keep themselves safe? We explain.◾ The G7 countries, who are meeting during the ongoing Leaders’ Summit in Germany, have officially launched the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), a joint initiative to fund infrastructure projects in developing countries. The project, launched on June 27, is being seen as the bloc’s counter to China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative. What is PGII, where are funds being directed under the plan, and what has been China’s response to the announcement? Read here.
The Shiv Sena Tuesday raised the issue of renaming of Aurangabad city to Sambhaji Nagar and said the state cabinet will take a decision on the matter Wednesday.“In today’s cabinet, I have raised the issue of renaming Aurangabad city to Sambhaji Nagar. A resolution to this effect will be discussed in the next cabinet meeting that will be held on Wednesday,” minister Anil Parab said after the cabinet meeting Tuesday.The Shiv Sena’s decision to rake up the renaming issue comes at a time when it is facing a serious political crisis with a large chunk of party MLAs having deserted the Sena. The rebel MLAs have over the past few days questioned the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena’s commitment to Hindutva, stating that the party is gradually being weaned away from its core ideology.In the late 1980s, Aurangabad became one of the first major cities outside the Mumbai-Thane belt that the Sena set its eyes on, said political pundits. The city’s 30 per cent Muslim population made it fertile ground for polarisation, and soon after riots that led to the killing of over 25 people, in 1988, the Sena won the elections to the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation.On May 8, 1988, Shiv Sena supremo late Balasaheb Thackeray announced the renaming of the city as Sambhaji Nagar after Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji, who was killed by Aurangzeb. In 1995, the corporation passed a resolution to do so, and the Shiv-Sena led government in the state issued a notification seeking suggestions and objections from people on this.The notification was challenged in the Bombay High Court by then AMC Congress corporator Mushtaq Ahmed. While the plea was dismissed by the Court stating that no decision had been taken, the renaming has remained a contentious issue and resurfaces ahead of every election.With the Shiv Sena in power, both the BJP and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have over the past two years been criticising the Sena for its failure to rename the city. Sena’s MVA allies, the Congress and the NCP, have not been too keen on the renaming of the city.In March 2020, the MVA government had cleared a proposal to rename the Aurangabad airport as Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj Airport. However, this has not yet got the go-ahead from the Centre.
NEW DELHI: Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis met Union minister Amit Shah and BJP president J P Nadda here on Tuesday to discuss the party's next course of action amid the spiralling political crisis in the state threatening the three-party Maha Vikas Adhadi government's existence. Fadnavis was joined by BJP MP and senior lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani in the meeting with the home minister, sources said. They are believed to have explored various options available for the party and deliberated on their legal feasibility as the BJP works to recapture power in Maharashtra with the help of rebel Shiv Sena MLAs and several independent lawmakers. After meeting Shah, Fadnavis drove to Nadda's residence and briefed him about the unfolding political developments in the western state. Earlier in the day, he arrived in the national capital from Mumbai to discuss the issue with the party's top brass. Around 39 rebel Sena MLAs and at least 10 independent legislators from the state have lodged themselves at a five star hotel in Assam in their bid to bring down the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led government. The BJP has denied any role in the rebellion but Fadnavis is being seen to be playing a key role in working out a post-MVA dispensation which he may head with support from the Sena rebels. BJP sources have maintained that any concrete outline of the next government has not been worked out but added that Eknath Shinde, the senior Sena leader who has led the rebellion against his party's alliance with traditional adversaries the Congress and the NCP, and other key members of the group will be suitably accommodated in case their party comes to power. Shinde may be made deputy chief minister in such an eventuality. The priority right now is to bring down the MVA government as it has clearly lost majority in the assembly, BJP leaders said. The rebels may approach the state governor, conveying the decision to withdraw their support from the Thackeray government. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari then may ask the ruling alliance to undergo a floor test in the assembly. The next couple of days may see a fresh movement from the rebels against the government, sources said. Though the BJP sources expressed confidence that the Uddhav Thackeray government is on its last leg, the party is treading cautiously to avoid any wrong move like the one in 2019 which had caused it embarrassment when Fadnavis formed a short lived government in alliance with the NCP faction headed by Ajit Pawar without ensuring adequate support of MLAs. Fadnavis had to resign in three days as NCP supremo Sharad Pawar rallied his party MLAs to thwart his nephew's bid to join hands with the BJP to form the government. The Sena then joined hands with the NCP and the Congress to come to power. The BJP has long nursed a grudge against the Sena as both parties had fought the 2019 assembly polls together and had secured a comfortable majority. However, its ally insistence that the post of chief ministership should be rotated between the two parties and not be held by the BJP alone led to a split.