NEW DELHI: The Centre must produce the letters of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis claiming majority and that of the Governor inviting to form government, the Supreme Court said today after hearing a petition of the Shiv Sena, Congress and Sharad Pawar's NCP against yesterday's extraordinary government formation in the state. The letters have to be submitted by 10.30 am tomorrow. In an extraordinary hearing on a Sunday, a three-judge bench also issued notice to the Mr Fadnavis, his deputy Ajit Pawar, the state and the Central government.
For now, Mr Fadnavis is safe from the three parties' demand that he take a test of strength on the floor of the Maharashtra assembly within 24 hours. 'Floor test is the hallmark of democracy. No formalities required,' Abhishek Singhvi, who represented the Congress, had told the court.
Countering the need for hurry, the BJP claimed that the Governor's decision cannot be subject to a judicial review. It had also asked for more time to produce the letters, which was turned down by the court.
Today's hearing comes as the BJP, with some deft political manoeuvring, formed government in Maharashtra yesterday, speeding past the three parties that were trying to cobble up a front and stake claim. After President's Rule was revoked before 6 am with special clearance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Governor had invited Devendra Fadnavis to form government. The oath ceremony took place at 7.50 am - with Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar taking oath as Mr Fadnavis's deputy.
It all hinges on numbers now, as the BJP claims it has the support of 54 MLAs of the NCP. Mr Pawar's party has countered it, saying Ajit Pawar had misled the Governor, submitting a letter with list of MLAs that was meant to show support letter to the alliance. The NCP says it has 50 MLAs with it, most of whom attended a meeting last evening in which Ajit Pawar was pulled down from the post of the legislature party leader.
As Justice Ashok Bhusan, part of the bench hearing the case under instructions of Chief Justice SA Bobde, asked when Mr Fadnavis had submitted the support letter, Mr Sibal responded that it was 'not on record'.
'It is betrayal. The Governor didn't ask for any material... The Supreme Court had ordered Karnataka floor test within 24 hours,' said Abhishek Singhvi. Former Union minister and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was representing the Sena, said, 'They say have support they say, they must be directed to take floor test'.
Appearing for the BJP MLAs and two Independents, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi claimed that the Governor's decision cannot be subject to a judicial review. 'The Governor not answerable for his actions... The Governor is immune under Article 361. There is complete bar on any action against Governor,' he said.
In 2014, after the Supreme Court ordered a trust vote, the BJP's BS Yeddyurappa, who had taken oath as the Chief Minister, stepped down saying he didn't have the numbers.
In their petition, the three parties have claimed that the Governor was 'duty bound' to study the claim of Mr Fadnavis before inviting him to form government. This was especially so when the Sena, NCP and the Congress, which have 154 MLAs together, have expressed their intention to stake claim to form the government, they said.
'The Hon'ble Governor has acted in a partisan manner and has made a mockery of the high office of the Governor... the Governor's actions between the intervening night of 22.11.2019 and 23.11.2019 culminating to the swearing in on the 23.11.2019 are a text book example of the Governor acting at the behest of a political party in power at the Centre,' their petition to the court read.