Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has asked Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove his majority on the floor of the House on Thursday.
The floor test is expected to establish the veracity of rebel leader Eknath Shinde’s claim that his faction has the support of more than 50 MLAs in the House.
A floor test is a legislative procedure through which an incumbent government that is suspected to have lost majority is required to prove it still retains the confidence of the House.
The Chief Minister moves a motion seeking a vote of confidence, on which MLAs who are present in the House vote. If the majority of members vote in favour, the government survives; if the CM loses the vote, the government has to resign.
Voting can be conducted by either a voice vote, in which MLAs respond to the motion verbally. Voting electronically involves the casting of votes by pressing a button, after which the numbers for each side are displayed on a board. In a physical division of votes, lawmakers cast votes in a ballot box, which are then counted.
For more than a week, Shiv Sena rebels led by Shinde have been camping outside Maharashtra, first in Gujarat, and then in Assam. Their ranks have swollen during this period, and they have appointed their own leader of the Shiv Sena Legislature Party and Chief Whip.
The rebels have said that they have 39 of the Shiv Sena’s 55 MLAs with them, and are the majority faction of the party. This group has said they are against the Sena’s alliance with the NCP and Congress, and would like to join hands with the BJP.
On Tuesday (June 28) night, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis met Governor Koshyari and requested that a floor test be held.
In a letter sent to the Chief Minister on Wednesday, Governor Koshyari referred to media reports that 39 Shiv Sena MLAs had expressed a desire to exit the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.
It also said that Raj Bhavan has received an email from seven Independent MLAs stating that the CM has lost the confidence of the majority in the House.
Therefore, the letter says, a session of the Maharashtra Assembly will be summoned at 11 am on June 30 “with the only agenda of a trust vote against the Chief Minister”.
The strength of the Legislative Assembly is 288. A Sena member passed away last month, so the effective strength now is 287. The magic number or halfway mark is, therefore, 144.
With 39 Sena MLAs going across to Shinde’s camp, the number of Sena MLAs supporting Thackeray has come down from 55 to 16. The NCP has 53, and the Congress has 44. The MVA tally therefore adds up to only 113, which is 31 short of the halfway mark.
There are 29 MLAs in the House who belong to smaller parties, or are Independents. About 10 among this group have pledged their support to the Shinde group, and another 10 are inclined towards the BJP.
Given this situation, it seems almost impossible for the government to reach the halfway mark.
What is likely to happen tomorrow and afterward?
The Vidhan Bhavan secretariat will provide the logistics for the floor test. Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal will be presiding in the absence of the Speaker.
Assuming Thackeray loses, he will resign, after which the Governor could invite the largest single party to form the government. The BJP has 106 MLAs, and if the Shinde group either merges with it or extends support to it, the process of government formation can begin.
An open question here seems to be whether the Shinde group, even if it has escaped disqualification under the provisions of the anti-defection law by reason of being more that two-thirds of the Shiv Sena legislative party, can continue to exist as a separate group in the Assembly, or whether it has to merge with the BJP.
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