The first BJP government in Maharashtra led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis won the trust motion in the assembly through a voice vote on Wednesday, leading to loud protests by Congress and Shiv Sena MLAs who said the Speaker should have allowed a division of votes. The protest turned ugly when Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, who arrived for his joint session address, was stopped at the entrance of the assembly by the protesting MLAs.
A few hours later, following a meeting with leaders of all parties, Speaker Haribhau Bagade suspended five Congress MLAs for two years for misconduct with the Governor. At the meeting, state Industries Minister Prakash Mehta moved the proposal to suspend the five MLAs for first physically stopping the Governor from stepping out of his car and then trying to stop him from entering the assembly, reportedly causing injury to his hand.
The protests by the Shiv Sena and Congress were triggered by the manner in which Speaker Bagade conducted the proceedings. Leader of Opposition Eknath Shinde of the Shiv Sena and Congress leader Radhakrisha Vikhe-Patil dismissed the trust vote as unconstitutional as the Speaker refused to allow division of votes.
However, Speaker Bagade said, “As per the rules, voice vote is valid. And rules say the Opposition should demand division of votes immediately when the process is underway on the floor of the assembly. Neither the Shiv Sena nor Congress showed the urgency to demand the voting.”
Challenging the Opposition to another no-confidence motion, Fadnavis said, “When the government brought a trust motion, why did Shiv Sena or Congress not exercise their rights to demand division of votes. Nothing stopped them from rising and asking for voting. If any Congress or Sena leader had stood immediately and sought voting, it would have been compulsory for the Speaker to undertake the exercise.”
State Congress chief Manikrao Thakre said it will pursue the matter with the Governor and may approach President Pranab Mukherjee after consulting the central leadership.
In the 288-member House, the BJP required support from 145 MLAs. Although it had 121 MLAs of its own and 14 MLAs from smaller parties and independents, it was expected to win the trust motion as the NCP had earlier announced outside support to the government. But with no division of votes taking place, the BJP government managed to avoid seen taking any help from the NCP.
In fact, the NCP too expressed surprise at the way the voice vote was conducted. NCP leader in assembly Ajit Pawar said, “I am surprised why they rushed with the trust vote. We had committed our support to the BJP government.”
Although Fadnavis later challenged the opposition parties to bring about a no-confidence motion, the government can breathe now easy for the next six months — the period required for another trust vote — which will give the BJP time to consolidate its position.
Notwithstanding the hard political posturing by the Congress and Shiv Sena, their backroom strategy was different from what they displayed.
In the morning, the election for the Speaker’s post, which was set to be a three-way contest, turned out to be a no-contest with both Shiv Sena and Congress withdrawing their candidates. The Sena leaders withdrew Vijay Awati from the contest, saying they respected BJP’s Bagade. The Congress also urged its candidate Varsha Gaikwad to withdraw from the race. Bagade was then unanimously elected as the Speaker.
Minutes after the Speaker’s election, the Shiv Sena demanded the government should declare their candidate Eknath Shinde as the Leader of the Opposition. But the BJP moved the proposal of vote trust. A single-line resolution seeking the vote trust for the Fadnavis government was moved by BJP MLA Ashish Shelar even as the Sena members insisted that the opposition leader should be first declared.
Amidst the confusion, the Speaker took up the trust motion that was passed through voice vote within minutes.
This was followed by high drama as Shiv Sena and Congress MLAs protested the Speaker’s action both inside and outside the assembly building.
As Governor Rao arrived to address the first joint session, a group of Congress MLAs first prevented him from stepping out of his car. When personal securitymen of the Governor and House marshals managed to clear the path, the MLAs blocked the Governor’s way by sitting on the staircase at the entrance of the Vidhan Bhawan.
State Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse said, “The government has received a report from the Governor’s office and police about manhandling of the Governor by the Congress MLAs. The entire incident is well-documented and captured in video. How can the assembly justify misconduct of the members against the Governor.”
Later, the Speaker suspended Congress MLAs Jaikumar Gore, Rahul Bondre, Abdul Sattar, Amar Kale and Virendra Jagtap for misconduct. They have been barred from entering the Vidhan Bhawan both in Mumbai and Nagpur for next two years.
While the Congress termed the action as harsh, Kale said, “I am surprised. I had no intention to hurt the Governor. I was just protesting against the BJP government.”