Times of India | 5 days ago | 23-06-2022 | 05:06 am
The epicentre of the MVA crisis shifted to Guwahati early on Wednesday with 34 rebel Shiv Sena legislators, flown in from Surat, passing a resolution backing Eknath Shinde's leadership and saying severing ties with BJP after the 2019 polls "had a tremendous negative impact upon voters and the party cadre at large". Shinde and his band were received by two Assam BJP ministers at their hotel. A few hours later, five more Maharashtra MLAs joined Shinde. "Right now, we have 46 MLAs with us here, including seven Independent MLAs. The rest 39 are from Shiv Sena," Shinde said. "Shiv Sena and BJP had forged a pre-poll alliance for the 2019 Maharashtra polls ... After the results, Sena severed ties with BJP and formed an alliance with the opposing parties," the resolution says. They MLAs also resolved that "there has been great dissatisfaction prevalent amongst the members of our party and party cadre at large, on account of corruption in the government, administration regarding police posting, corruption by then home minister Anil Deshmukh and sitting minority minister Nawab Malik... Our party cadre faced tremendous harassment and distress on political as well as personal grounds from the Opposition ideological parties, who are now part of the government". Shinde and his team were received at the Guwahati airport by a BJP MP and an MLA. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma visited the hotel, which has been turned into a heavily fortified area, and left before the rebels arrived.
MUMBAI POLICE Commissioner Sanjay Pandey on Tuesday called legislators from the Shiv Sena and BJP to his office in order to discuss the law and order situation in the city in light of the current political turmoil in the state. Those who attended the meeting included BJP MLAs Mihir Kotecha, Parag Alavani and party corporator Atul Shah, among others. The Shiv Sena was represented by some of the party’s corporators.“We had been called by the Mumbai police commissioner to discuss the law andorder situation in the city keeping in mind the political turmoil. We all want peace in the city. What is happening within the Shiv Sena is their personal matter and we have nothing to do with it,” said Alavani.The Supreme Court, while hearing the pleas filed by the rebel Sena candidates earlier, had instructed the state government to ensure that there are no law and order problems in the city and the residences of rebel candidates are not attacked. Police have also conducted several meetings with Shiv Sena shakha pramukhs, asking them to maintain peace. Earlier, on Monday, a two-hour meeting was conducted by Mumbai Police, during which the top brass interacted with senior inspectors of local police stations, asking them to ensure that law and order was maintained in their jurisdictions.Soon after the rebellion in the Shiv Sena, offices of rebel MLAs such as Mangesh Kudalkar and Sada Sarvankar had been attacked and their posters had been blackened. Later, CRPF protection was provided to four Sena MLAs in the city.
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 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. The arrest comes just as the PM was singing paeans to Indian democracy in Munich, milking the Emergency way past its political expiry date and signing protocols on free speech. It is a reminder to the world that with this regime, you have to vigilantly watch what it does and not be duped by what it says.Let us look at the larger political and institutional context of this story. The outfit that Mohammed Zubair helped run, Alt News, did sterling service for India’s democracy, holding onto the now elusive idea that facts might matter. His courage has been an inspiration. He brought to our attention the fact that Nupur Sharma, a high office-bearer of the ruling BJP, had engaged in a speech about Prophet Mohammed that could only be considered vile. There were communal riots in the wake of that speech and international condemnation of India. This column had argued that what made Nupur Sharma’s speech dangerous was that it expressed the sentiments of the ruling party (‘Beware of half victories’, IE, June 8). She should have been politically punished. But liberals should have resisted calling for her arrest and using FIRs because, in the long run, such moves only serve to weaken the free speech regime, and it makes the protection of free speech open to competitive communal mobilisation.Zubair’s arrest sends several messages. First, it is pure revenge, through and through. It was a matter of time before the Modi government unleashed a politics of revenge in the wake of its international humiliation. Second, the purpose is to keep the free speech debate hostage to communal politics. That he has been allegedly arrested for a 2018 tweet, which used a trope about a hotel from an old Hindi film, might make this case seem farcical. Surely, you might say, this case cannot be serious? But the purpose is to create a narrative of victimhood that our free speech regime allows Hindu gods to be mocked but not the Prophet. The farcical nature of the charge is designed to play on that card.It might be pointed out that many purveyors of hate speech in the ruling party, even those who have directly incited violence, roam free. The government is selective in who it targets using Section 153 of the IPC. But this selectivity has its political functions. It underscores the point that the majority can act with impunity. Ministers can incite violence without consequence, but how dare a Zubair raise his voice? These arrests give wind to the fantasy of majoritarian impunity and privilege. Finally, it is common knowledge that Zubair’s crime was not mocking Hindu gods. It was to stand steadfast on one thing that makes this government tremble with fear and rage — facts. Perhaps Zubair will be lucky and a judge with an iota of professional competence will see through the farce of his arrest. But the signal is clear.This arrest has to be seen as part of the larger pattern of arbitrariness and repression: ED and CBI raids, whenever political convenient, the use of UAPA charges against innocent students, the communally targeted bulldozing of properties, the control over the media, the use of vigilante violence, and the complete decimation of all independent institutions. PM Modi rightly and vehemently objects to the Emergency. But it almost seems as if his charge is that, as bad as the Emergency was, it was not done right: It did not have the kind of insidiousness, communal charge, slow torture that this regime aspires to.But this repression of liberty is aided by wider complicity. This column had once used the phrase judicial barbarism (‘Lordships and masters,’ IE November 18, 2020) to describe the conduct of India’s highest court. Now, in retrospect, the term judicial was superfluous in that description. It still suggested some deference to judicial form, some procedure, some fig leaf of a rule by law, if not rule of law. But the conduct of the Supreme Court over the last few days has only underscored the fact that in many cases, calling its proceedings judicial is to cut it too much slack. The Court may have had its reasons to decide the Zakia Jafri case the way it did. But to unleash the might of the state on the petitioners who have been fighting an almost lone legal battle to get justice to the victims of the Gujarat riots; to convict them without a trial is a new and chilling precedent. Even if one grants, for argument’s sake, mistakes on the petitioner’s part, what the Court is licensing is nothing but revenge against those seeking justice.Then there is the farce being played out over the Maharashtra Assembly, where the Court has just committed full-blown murder of the Tenth Schedule and the anti-defection law. It has muddied the Speaker’s powers; it has in effect given the BJP what it wanted — more time to horse trade. But what links the cases — Zubair, the Gujarat petitioners, and the Maharashtra Assembly episode – is a complete inversion of justice. Facts are crimes, seeking justice is a sin and democracy is best served by judicial arbitrariness.But these cases are not likely to evoke much public response. Amongst the well-meaning people, there is still a tendency to see these cases as exceptional, the deviations that scar but do not challenge the basic constitutional scheme. We will go through the motions as if our institutions still provide a conduit for constitutional argument and justice. If we are lucky, an occasional brave judge might give a Zubair relief and we can all go through our lives with a clean conscience, even as the system collapses around us.But more ominously, there will be celebrations of this state impunity, there will be cheering for communalism, and triumphal assertions that liberals are worse than tyrants. The Emergency in 1975 was repressive, but it did not dull our intellects, eviscerate our conscience, or extinguish our fighting spirit. The Supreme Court accused activists of keeping the pot boiling. For once, the Court, like the government, knows what it is talking about: boiling. Between them, they have burnt democracy, liberty and secular political values to death. All that remains is the burnt embers, emitting the stench of tyranny. Zubair is the latest victim. There will be countless more.The writer is contributing editor, The Indian Express