Until the resignation of Maharashtra’s newly sworn in Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on Tuesday, followed by that of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the focus of attention had been on a floor test the government would have faced on Wednesday.
The Supreme Court had ordered the floor test on Monday. In its order, it referred to cases in the past where it had directed the holding of a floor test to establish whether the political party/alliance that staked a claim for government formation had the requisite majority. Here is a recap of these cases from various states and the circumstances that led to the Supreme Court court’s intervention.
S R Bommai v Union of India (1994)
The concept of floor test was first established by the Supreme Court in 1994 in the landmark case of S R Bommai. In this case, it was alleged that the Janata Party government led by Bommai did not enjoy a majority in the Karnataka legislature. The court held that, wherever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House.
Jagdambika Pal v Union of India (1999)
The events that led to this case coming before the Supreme Court were less than pleasant. In 1996, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections resulted in none of the contesting parties winning a clear majority. President’s Rule was imposed for some time and thereafter, the BJP and the BSP formed a coalition government. The understanding between the two parties was that each party would have its Chief Minister for six months. Consequently, Mayawati of BSP became the Chief Minister for six months. When Kalyan Singh of the BJP occupied the CMs chair, BSP withdrew support to the government. A trust vote was called on the floor of the House, which witnessed some of the most violent scenes in any Legislative Assembly. MLAs threw mikes, chairs and sound boxes not only at each other but also at the Speaker. While Kalyan Singh won the trust vote, his government was later dismissed by Governor Romesh Bhandari. The Governor swore in Jagdambika Pal, whose appointment was challenged by Kalyan Singh. The Supreme Court then ordered a composite floor test to determine who enjoyed a majority in the UP Assembly. The court also gave specific instructions about how the test should be conducted.
Anil Kumar Jha v Union of India (2005)
The next instance of a composite floor test being ordered by the Supreme Court happened in Jharkhand. This time the contest was between Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Shibu Soren and the NDA’s Arjun Munda. The Governor had invited Soren to form the government while Munda claimed that he commanded a majority in the House. The Supreme Court advanced the date of the floor test and again issued detailed instructions with regard to recording of the proceedings of the floor test and regarding the orderly conduct of the test.
Union of India v Harish Chandra Singh Rawat (2016)
The case in Uttarakhand was a little different. Here the controversy regarding a majority did not occur after the elections to the state legislature. The Congress government led by Harish Rawat had been in power since 2012. It was towards the end of its tenure in 2016, that controversy erupted on the floor of the House. A few rebel MLAs from the Congress party alleged that an appropriation Bill was passed without the government enjoying a majority in the legislature. Thereafter, President’s Rule was imposed in the State. In response, Rawat approached the Supreme Court, which ordered an immediate floor test, after suspending President’s Rule for two hours. Again the Supreme Court ordered video recordings of the floor test proceedings and also asked that the result of the floor test be brought before it.
Chandrakant Kavlekar v Union of India (2017)
This case from Goa was a result of the Governor inviting Manohar Parrikar of the BJP to form the government in the State. The BJP had won 13 of the 40 seats in the Goa legislature and had claimed the support of smaller parties for forming the government. The Supreme Court, while ordering a floor test in this case, held, “The holding of the floor test would remove all possible ambiguities, and would result in giving the democratic process the required credibility.”
The author is Head of Outreach at PRS Legislative Research