Maha Speaker ‘rejects’ disqualification of MLAs, declares Shinde’s faction ‘real’

Mumbai: Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar ruled that former CM and UBT faction leader Uddhav Thackeray “had no power” to remove now CM Eknath Shinde and adjudged that Shinde’s faction is the “real” Shiv Sena party when rival factions emerged in 2022. The Speaker also turned down the demand of Thackeray faction to disqualify CM Shinde and his MLAs.

“I hold that the Shinde faction was the real political party when rival faction emerged on June 21, 2022. Shinde faction had an overwhelming majority of 37 of 55 MLAs when rival factions emerged,” he said.

Narwekar, while pronouncing his order on MLAs’ disqualification petitions, stated that Shiv Sena’s 2018 Constitution “cannot be considered” to determine the ongoing leadership tussle and added that the Shiv Sena constitution provided by the Election Commission is the real constitution, to be called the SS Constitution.

The Maharashtra speaker added that a consensus on Shiv Sena’s constitution and other issues has not been reached and added that the Uddhav Thackeray faction’s submission to consider the party’s 2018 amended constitution can not be accepted.

“The last relevant constitution submitted to ECI before the rival groups emerged was in 1999. The constitution of Shiv Sena provided by ECI is the relevant constitution of Shiv Sena for the determination of which faction is the real political party,” Narwekar said.

Adjudging that a Shiv Sena ‘Paksha Pramukh‘ does not have the power to remove any leader from the party, Narwekar overturned Uddhav’s removal of now CM Shinde as a group leader of the party. He ruled that the will of the Pramukh was not synonymous with the will of the political party and that he did not have a right to remove anyone from the position.

Narwekar emphasized that the leadership structure of the Shiv Sena is deemed unreliable under the party’s amended constitution of 2018. He pointed out the absence of leadership elections in Shiv Sena for the years 2013 and 2019, leading to the unavailability of the pertinent leadership structure.

Addressing Shiv Sena’s leadership structure, Narwekar said that the two factions have different points of view on the leadership and added: “I find that the leadership structure as reflected in the February 2018 letter is relevant and to be taken into account to determine which faction is the real political party. Shiv Sena’s constitution is relevant to the extent of identifying relevant leadership structures. I have concluded that the emergence of two factions can be inferred from June 21, 2022, and the same came to be as a matter of official record of the legislature secretariat on June 22, 2022.”

The Maharashtra speaker’s verdict comes more than 18 months after the Shiv Sena suffered a vertical split, a political development that resulted in a change of guard in the state.

In June 2022, Shinde and several MLAs rebelled against the then-chief minister Thackeray, leading to a split in the Shiv Sena and the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, which also comprised the NCP and the Congress.

Cross-petitions were filed by the Shinde and Thackeray factions before the speaker seeking action against each other under anti-defection laws. The apex court in May last year directed Narwekar to adjudicate on the pleas expeditiously.

The Election Commission had given the ‘Shiv Sena’ name and ‘bow and arrow’ symbol to the Shinde-led faction, while the one headed by Thackeray was called the Shiv Sena (UBT) with a flaming torch as its symbol. In July last year, the Ajit Pawar faction of the NCP also joined the Shinde-led government.

Assembly polls in Maharashtra are due in the second half of 2024.

On Tuesday, the opposition Shiv Sena (UBT) upped the ante as its president Uddhav Thackeray said his party has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court objecting to a recent meeting between Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, who is among the MLAs whose disqualification has been sought, and speaker Rahul Narwekar as both sides engaged in a verbal spat.

“If the judge (Narwekar) is going to meet the accused, what should we expect from that judge,” Thackeray asked, speaking to the media at his residence `Matoshree’ here.

The affidavit before the SC was filed on Monday, the former CM said.

Thackeray’s ally and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) founder Sharad Pawar also said that when someone who is hearing a case meets the person against whom the case is being heard, it “leaves room for doubt”.