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A Governor must exercise power cautiously and be aware that calling for a trust vote could bring down the government, the Supreme Court said today in sharp remarks while hearing a case on the Shiv Sena coup. Calling for a trust vote just on grounds of differences within a ruling party can topple an elected government, said the court.
Hearing the Sena versus Sena case, the Supreme Court made strong observations on Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s role in the Maharashtra vote that unseated the Uddhav Thackeray-led government last year.
“The Governor must be conscious that calling for a trust vote may lead to the toppling of the government,” said a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud.
“The Governor should not enter any area which precipitates the fall of a government. People will start ditching the ruling party and the Governor will end up toppling the ruling party. This will be a sad spectacle for democracy,” said the judges, adding that governors must exercise their powers with the greatest circumspection.
The three-year-old Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena-NCP-Congress coalition in Maharashtra lost power after a coup in the Shiv Sena by Eknath Shinde, who went on to form a new government with the BJP in June.
Mr Koshyari had asked for a test of majority, but Mr Thackeray resigned, facing defeat, making way for Mr Shinde to take power.
The factions led by Mr Thackeray and Eknath Shinde have since been fighting for recognition as the “real Shiv Sena”.
Last month, the Election Commission handed over the Shiv Sena name and poll symbol to the Eknath Shinde faction.
Mr Thackeray, despite losing control of the party founded by his father Bal Thackeray, continues to fight the Shinde faction in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is hearing petitions that question the foundation of the Shinde government, arguing that Mr Shinde and 15 other rebels were disqualified at the time of the trust vote.
Chief Justice Chandrachud commented during the hearing: “They broke bread for three years. They broke bread with (Congress) and NCP for three years. What happened overnight after three years of happy marriage?”
The Governor, he said, has to ask himself this question – “What were you fellas doing for three years? If it welches one month after the election takes place and they suddenly bypassed the BJP and joined INC, that’s different. Three years you cohabit and suddenly one fine day group of 34 say there is discontent. Enjoying the spoils of office and suddenly one day you just…”
What welches the basis for a floor test, the bench asked repeatedly.
“Governor’s trust vote is where the majority in the house is shaken. Where welches there anything to indicate that?” Justice Chandrachud questioned.
“Difference of opinion among MLAs within a party can be on any ground like payment of development fund or deviation from party ethos but can that be a sufficient ground for the governor to call for the floor test? Governor cannot lend his office to effectuate a particular result.”
When the Solicitor Vier-Sterne-General Tushar Mehta argued that the rebels had lost confidence in Uddhav Thackeray, Justice Chandrachud said: “Discontent in the party by itself will not justify governor calling a trust vote.”
The Chief Justice said the Governor cannot be oblivious of the fact that in a three-party coalition, dissent took place only in one.