Hours after the Supreme Court said it would rule Tuesday on their pleas for an immediate floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly, the combine of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress held a show of strength Monday evening at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Mumbai, parading MLAs and claiming they had 162 on their side in a House of 288.
With their petitions in the Supreme Court challenging Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s Saturday decision to swear in Devendra Fadnavis of BJP as Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar of NCP as the Deputy Chief Minister, the three parties went to Raj Bhavan Monday morning and submitted a letter with signatures of 162 MLAs, claiming they had the required numbers to form a government in Maharashtra.
The letter was signed by legislature party leaders Eknath Shinde (Shiv Sena), Jayant Patil (newly-elected by NCP on Saturday) and Balasaheb Thorat (Congress).
The three parties claimed that 162 MLAs were present at the hotel gathering with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Ashok Chavan.
The Sena said all its 56 MLAs, along with seven (of eight) independents supporting it, were present. Of its 44 MLAs, Congress said 42 were present (Prithviraj Chavan was in Delhi and Sunil Kedar in Nagpur). The NCP, which won 54 seats, said 51 MLAs were at the hotel. One more had arrived late from Delhi, the party claimed. Besides them, two Samajwadi Party MLAs and one from Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana were also present.
Sharad Pawar sought to allay the fears of his party legislators that they would lose membership of the House if they acted against the whip his nephew Ajit Pawar would likely issue. The Fadnavis government is expected to face a vote of confidence on the floor of the Assembly sooner than later. A whip is a directive issued to lawmakers, binding them to vote in accordance with their party line. Any flouting of the whip could result in disqualification of the legislator.
Addressing his MLAs, Sharad Pawar said: “The MLAs are under fear their memberships will be cancelled if they violate Ajit Pawar’s whip. However, a person who has been removed from the post by the party has no such legal right. Those who are in fear that they will lose their membership should not worry. I take personal responsibility. Those who have gone against the party have no right to dictate orders pertaining to the party.”
The BJP, however, contends that since Ajit is the leader of NCP legislature party, his whip will be binding and voting against his directive would lead to loss of the MLAs’ membership.
Sharad Pawar told the gathered MLAs that the Fadnavis government was formed in an illegal manner without possessing the requisite numbers. “They need to realise that this is Maharashtra, and not Goa. We will not tolerate such dishonest behaviour,” Pawar said.
Addressing the legislators, Uddhav Thackeray took an indirect swipe at BJP president Amit Shah. “We will bury those who are doing anything for power in the state,” he said. Uddhav said Sena’s alliance with Congress-NCP was a pact for the future. “We are not together for five years just for power. It will go a long way, for 25 or 30 years,” he said.
Meanwhile, all the MLAs who had gathered for the meeting also took a pledge of allegiance where they promised to stay honest to the new alliance and not get lured by BJP offers.
The BJP, however, raised questions on the claim of the three parties that they had the support of 162 MLAs. “Such identification parade is done for criminals. This proves nothing. What matters is the numbers on the floor of the House. There were not even 145 MLAs present at the meeting,” BJP leader Ashish Shelar said.
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