Fadnavis must brace for rough ride ahead
This was, perhaps, the worst beginning for the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra. His government would have easily won the trust vote with the NCP first deciding to abstain in voting, but, later, agreeing to vote with the government. Then whose idea it was to pass the motion through the voice vote and cast a doubt on the legitimacy of first-ever BJP government in the state?
Whosoever’s idea it might have been- government’s or the newly elected Speaker Haribhau Bagde’s- it has reduced the credibility of the Fadnavis government. Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, grabbed the occasion to say the faux pas has put a question mark over legitimacy of the BJP government.
The BJP had secured 122 seats in the recent elections, falling short of a majority by 22. The 41-member-strong NCP had indicated from the start that it would abstain from voting- an act that, by reducing effective strength of the house, would have ensured the BJP government a safe passage.
By the time voting day came, the NCP had gone a step further in agreeing to vote for the government, and that would have given it a margin of 19 votes. Yet, the BJP allowed its victory to be tarnished by refusing to agree to a division, or an actual head count.
Instead, despite vociferous protests by members of the Congress and the Shiv Sena, the minority BJP government won its confidence vote through a voice-vote. The question then arises; if the BJP could have anyway won by division, meaning counting of heads, why would it opt for a voice vote, one that has much less legitimacy, and that too at the very start of a five-year term?
In case of trust vote or no-confidence vote, the practice followed over the years in Parliament as well as in state assemblies is well established; it is division to ascertain that the government enjoys majority. The law requires that once the Speaker rules in favour of ayes after the voice voting, if the dissenting voices on the floor still demand a formal division of votes through actual voting machines, it is incumbent on the Speaker to accept their plea. The government cannot really run away from proving its majority on the floor of the house.
In the present case both the Congress and the Shiv Sena have demanded a new trust vote to be again moved by CM and voted properly. How this can be achieved? The issue of confidence motion cannot be reopened now that the Speaker has already given his ruling. One way out is that Fadnavis comes forward and moves a fresh trust motion and that it should be put to vote and head counts carried. The motion is certain to go through as support of NCP is certain and the step will re-establish legitimacy of the government.
In the weeks ahead, however, the Fadnavis government could find it hard focusing on the job at had, with Shiv Sena accusing it of ‘strangling democracy’ and the Congress warning that it would not allow any business in the assembly to be conducted till government obtains a fresh trust vote, and threatening to bring a no-confidence motion against newly elected Speaker. The two parties are not prepared to wait till the house debates Governor’s address and the motion of thanks is put to vote.
Meanwhile, a delegation of 23 Shiv Sena leaders met Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and handed over a petition seeking dismissal of the BJP Government, which the party claimed was ‘unconstitutional’.
An editorial in the party’s mouthpiece Saamna said, ‘can those who win trust vote by sidelining the traditions of the house, win the trust of the people? No matter how confidently you claim your victory, you have lost the moral right to government this state. Those who used the ‘corrupt’ to reach the power centre should not claim clean governance. Forget us, even the people of this state will not accept this trust vote’.
The Saamna editorial questioned the need to bypass ballot voting and clearing the confidence motion by voice vote. ‘Did you choose the voice vote, only to keep the support of ‘corrupt’ people under wraps? Where you not confident about majority? Why couldn’t you show your clear majority on paper? Why was our demand of ballot voting sidelined?’
The BJP had a reason to shirk a division of votes- it would have had to acknowledge the ‘unconditional’ support of the NCP’s 41 MLAs to make up for its shortfall in numbers, thereby drawing attention to a turnabout vis a vis a party it had attacked so aggressively for corruption during the election campaign.
Chief minister Fadnavis begins on the onerous task of running a minority government in a political climate already marked by antagonism between government and opposition and in the best interest of the state that he now leads, he needs to reach out to the opposition.