Narwekar Held Shinde Faction as “Real” Shiv Sena, Rejects Demand for Disqualification of MLAs of Both Factions
NEW DELHI, Jan 10: On the day the Supreme Court granted extended deadline for Maharashtra Speaker Rahul Narwekar to decide on the Shiv Sena disqualification row to expire, he delivered his decision holding the chief minister Eknath Shinde-led faction as the “real Shiv Sena” and rejected the demand for the disqualification of the faction members of the Maharashtra Assembly.
Eknath Shinde faction is the real Shiv Sena in Assembly and its MLAs cannot be held disqualified, ruled the Maharashtra Speaker Rahul Narwekar while deciding the disqualification petitions against the Chief Minister and several MLAs whose rebellion had split the Shiv Sena last year. The Supreme Court last month had extended the deadline till January 10 to Mr Narwekar to decide on the cross-petitions filed by rival factions of the Shiv Sena seeking disqualification of each other’s MLAs.
Mr Narwekar also rejected the disqualification pleas against Shinde Sena MLAs as well as the lawmakers of the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction. “The last relevant constitution submitted to the Election Commission of India before the rival groups emerged was of 1999. I hold that Constitution of Shiv Sena party provided by ECI to Speaker is relevant constitution of Shiv Sena to decide which is the real political party,” he said.
The Speaker further added that Eknath Shinde was validly appointed as leader of the Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray had no power to remove Eknath Shinde adding that Shiv Sena president doesn’t hold the decision making powers but the Rashtriya Karyakarini. The 1999 constitution of Shiv Sena, relied upon by Eknath Shinde, has been accepted, the Speaker added further.
In June 2022, Eknath Shinde and several MLAs rebelled against then-chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, leading to a split in the Sena and the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government which also comprised the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.
Hitting out at the Assembly Speaker’s verdict declaring the CM Eknath Shinde-led faction as the real Sena, UBT leaders said it was a “conspiracy” and a “murder of democracy.” “It is opportunistic and unfortunate compromise of ethics,” said Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Uddhav Thackeray faction.
Jitendra Awhad (NCP-Sharad Pawar faction) leader said the post of Assembly Speaker is the highest but Mr Narwekar has brought down the dignity of the post.
“The party will fight it legally,” said Aaditya Thackeray, the son of Uddhav Thackeray reacting to the Speaker’s decision. “It was BJPs dream to finish Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena, but BJP can never do that. Today’s verdict is not a judgement but a conspiracy,” said Sanjay Raut.
Meanwhile, Aditya Thackeray termed the decision a “murder of democracy” adding that it indicates how BJP can change the Constitution
In an interaction with Shiv Sena office bearers and workers in a meeting held at Waghwadi in Sangli district, Aaditya Thackeray said, “This year is ours. But for that we have to forget caste-religion and promote Maharashtra as one religion. Get ready to fight for it together.”
Speaker Rahul Narwekar said no party leadership can use provisions of the 10th schedule of Constitution to stifle dissent among large number of members of a party. “Not attending party meeting and voicing difference of opinion outside the house of legislature are matters of party. Non-attendance of the meeting can at the most be termed as an act of dissent within the party and it would be protected by freedom of speech and expression. Non-attendance cannot be treated as conduct attracting disqualification,” he said.
“The allegation by UBT faction against Shinde faction MLAs of making anti-party and anti-coalition statements is unsubstantiated. News reports cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of anti-party activities. It can at most be only considered hearsay. Therefore unstated and unsubstantiated statements cannot be ground for disqualification,” he said.
“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. Accordingly he also held that Narwekar further said:
- Sunil Prabhu had ceased to be the whip of the party since the rival faction emerged, Bharat Gogavale validly appointed as Whip and Eknath Shinde validly appointed as leader of Shiv Sena political party.
Mr Narwekar overturned Uddhav Thackeray’s removal of now CM Eknath Shinde as a group leader of Shiv Sena. “It would be appropriate to note that the Shiv Sena constitution does not have a position called a Paksh Pramukh (which Uddhav Thackeray was holding). The will of the Paksh Pramukh is not synonymous to will of political party. The party president does not have a right to remove anyone from the position,” he said.
He said the leadership structure in 2018 was not in conformity with the Shiv Sena constitution. “The 2018 leadership structure mentions Shiv Sena paksh pramukh as highest office. However, in the SS constitution, the highest office is Shiv Sena Pramukh and Rashtriya Karyakarini is the highest authority.”
Thus, Narwekar said, it cannot be taken as yardstick to determine which faction was the real political party at the relevant time. “The (Shiv Sena) UBT faction submitted that decision of Paksha Pramukh is synonymous to the will of political party in case of rift. This proposition is devoid of merit,” he said.
“I find that the leadership structure as reflected in February 2018 letter is relevant and to be taken into account to determine which faction is the real political party. Shiv Sena constitution is relevant to the extent of identifying relevant leadership structure. I have come to conclusion that emergence of two factions can be inferred from June 21, 2022 and same came to be as matter of official record of legislature secretariat on June 22, 2022.” The political crisis in Maharashtra has given rise to the question whether the Shiv Sena rebels can avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law.
Mr Narwekar had earlier said 34 petitions were filed and documents running into 2.5 lakh pages were produced before his office during the hearing.
He went on to say, “As per the Apex court both the factions have submitted different versions of the constitution party, then in that case what has to be taken into account, the constitution which was submitted to the ECI with the consent of both parties before the rival factions emerged…Before recording further conclusion it is imperative to reiterate that pursuant to the initiation of this disqualification, the Maharashtra Legislative Secretariat had a letter dated June 7 2023, requesting the Office of ECI to provide a copy of the party constitution/memorandum/rules…”
He said the Uddhav Thackeray camp had not provided any material to back their allegation that Shinde faction was acting in concert with the BJP. The Speaker based his decisions on the version of the constitution available with the Election Commission, saying it would form the basis of deciding on the leadership structure and from there, he would conclude which faction of the Shiv Sena should be considered the real party.
“There is no consensus on the constitution submitted by both the parties (two factions of Shiv Sena) to the EC. The two parties have different points of views on leadership structure. The only aspect is the majority in the legislature party. I will have to decide the relevant constitution to be taken into account to the leadership structure that existed before the dispute….,” Mr Narwekar said.
Eknath Shinde had said he rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership and split the Shiv Sena in June 2022 only to save the party. “I took the stand with honesty and with the intention of saving the party,” said Mr Shinde who toppled the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government and formed an alliance with the BJP to become the chief minister.
Earlier this week, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray said his detractors see him in their dreams despite stealing the party’s name and symbol, adding that he knows the people of Maharashtra are with him. “Despite stealing my party’s name and symbol, the detractors see me in their dreams. They know Uddhav Thackeray is not alone, that all of Maharashtra is with him,” Mr Thackeray said.
The Election Commission had earlier give the ‘Shiv Sena’ name and ‘bow and arrow’ symbol to the Shinde-led faction, while the one headed by Thackeray was to be called Shiv Sena (UBT) with its symbol being a flaming torch.
Uddhav Thackeray said his party filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Tuesday 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.