Two key factors in Maharashtra floor test: Who’s pro-tem Speaker, NCP House leader

Apurva Vishwanath
NCP Ajit Pawar reaches Y.B. Chavan hall in Mumbai for NCP meeting on Tuesday. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

THE Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena have made a pitch before the Supreme Court for conducting the floor test at the earliest instead of the November 30 deadline allowed by Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. The battle, however, will rest on two crucial aspects, which are likely to weigh on the minds of the lawyers arguing in court: the appointment of a pro-tem Speaker and who is recognised as the NCP legislature party leader.

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The Governor has to convene a brief session of the Vidhan Sabha to facilitate the floor test and appoint a pro-tem Speaker. The pro-tem Speaker has a limited role of administering oath to newly elected legislators and conducting the floor test for the Chief Minister to prove majority. Subsequently, the ruling party appoints a Speaker.

Conventionally, the senior-most legislator is picked as the pro-tem Speaker although this is not binding on the Governor. Congress’s Balasaheb Thorat is said to be the senior-most legislator but since it is not mandatory for Governor Koshyari to follow the convention, the appointment could likely be another cog in the wheel for conducting the floor test.

In 2018, Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala appointed BJP leader K G Bopaiah as the pro-tem speaker although Congress’s R V Deshpande was the senior-most MLA. The Governor had said he picked Bopaiah from a list of names submitted to him by the secretary of the state legislative assembly. Despite pleas from the Congress, the Supreme Court did not look into the merits of Bopaiah’s appointment. It, however, directed the secretary of the legislative assembly to permit several local channels to broadcast the trust vote live.

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In the 2016 trust vote, in which then Congress chief minister Harish Rawat proved his majority, the Supreme Court had directed that the registrar general of the Uttarakhand High Court would be present as an observer.

Another issue that would be key to the outcome of the floor test is who is recognised as the NCP’s legislature party leader.

Although the NCP MLAs on Saturday sacked Ajit Pawar as the legislature party leader, denouncing his letter of support to the BJP and appointed Jayant Patil in his place, the Speaker would ultimately decide on who would be recognised as the party whip on the floor of the House. Since Patil’s election was after Ajit Pawar extended NCP support, if the Speaker allows him to issue a whip to NCP MLAs, then the Speaker could disqualify the party’s MLAs who defy the whip. NCP lawyers told the apex court that 41 MLAs were present in the meet sacking Ajit Pawar.

Maharashtra BJP leader Ashish Shelar has already called the sacking of Ajit Pawar “legally invalid” since it did not have the Governor’s approval.

The Congress-NCP-Sena’s lawyers would be conscious of the advantage of getting the court’s nod on this aspect as well.