The winners and the Losers – and what may have prevented a Vote count?
Mumbai/Nagpur: When the Maharashtra Assembly convened yesterday it seemed that it was going to be a peaceful day with ‘idealistic’ politics being displayed. That is the spirit in which post of Speaker/ President of the House was ‘elected’ unanimously. Though three candidates were in the ring before, one each from BJP, Congress and Shiv Sena, the situation changed after CM Devendra Fadnavis spoke to Prithviraj Chavan of Congress and Udhav Thakeray of Sena requesting they withdraw their candidates and let the Speaker be selected unopposed to maintain decorum of the House and follow the highest traditions of democracy. They accepted the request and the Speaker was elected unopposed.
The leaders of all parties escorted the new Speaker Mr. Haribhau Bagde to his chair and the proceedings of the House began in this cordial atmosphere.
The second agenda of the House was slated to be selecting leader of the Opposition for which Shiv Sena and Congress were in the fray. It was apparent that with greater numbers being with them, Sena would bag this post – but suddenly the script for the scenario of the house changed.
Instead of going in for this motion, Haribhau Bagde tabled the motion of taking vote of confidence for the BJP Government which is technically a minority Government, still. BJP MLA Ashish Shelar tabled the motion.
While Sena and Congress were still protesting about the order being changed with some of them rushing to the well of the house, and when there was tremendous din and disruption the Speaker declared that the ayes have it and the motion is won! This all happened within two minutes.
He then turned to the business of electing Leader of opposition. When the motion was being proposed Sena and Congress MLAs began shouting and demanding a count of votes.
Giving the reason that the time had passed for it, they should have asked for it before, their demand was rejected.
THE QUESTION EVERYONE IS ASKING IS – WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM IN ASKING FOR A COUNT OF VOTES? THE NUMBERS WERE OBVIOUSLY WITH THE BJP – 121 OF THEIR OWN MLAs, 41 OF THE NCP AND 12- 14 OF THE FRIENDLY PARTIES AND INDEPENDENTS WOULD HAVE SEEN THEM SAILING SMOOTHLY THROUGH. SO WHY THE UNHOLY HASTE? WHY WAS THE ORDER OF BUSINESS CHANGED AND WHY WAS A VOICE VOTE RUSHED THROUGH?
Political Pundits opine that there could be two reasons for this – both master strokes that would impress the script writer of any Bollywood pot boiler.
First is – as NCP leader Bhujbal later stated, the Sena MLAs had staged a walk out in protest and weren’t present when the voice vote was taken. The NCP MLAs, again as per Bhujbal were confused at what was happening and were “too stunned to say either Yes or No”. With 63 Sena MLAs not being present there was no need either for NCP to either vote, or abstain. So it was left to only 41 Congress MLAs to vociferously oppose the motion. If a Vote count had been taken, the confusion about which party MLAs did what would have been cleared which neither the Sena, nor BJP nor NCP wanted. As a result of this chaotic scenario, the Sena can tommorow claim ( if it comes to joining the Government) that they neither supported nor opposed since they were not present. NCP can say their stand didn’t matter anyway so they did neither. And BJP can claim that they won the confidence vote without NCP support.
The second scenario that some Shiv Sena leaders like Eknath Shinde were soon talking about is: that there was a strong possibility that the 40 MLAs from Vidarbha who had gathered at Nitin Gadkari’s house in Nagpur supporting him for CM had decided to vote against the confidence motion – or abstain. The NCP MLAs too could have then changed sides : remember in his press conference held two days ago Pawar kept saying his MLAs would decide on the day of voting what they would do “in the interest of stability “? He never categorically stated that they would vote in favour of the Government. This event would have been catastrophic for the BJP, though it seems highly unlikely that MLAs who have since been made Ministers would have self -destructed like that.
What ever was the reality, a master manouvre had been played out. It is learnt from highly placed sources in Delhi that Arun Jaitley senior BJP Minister and ace Lawyer, was the architect of this plan. A Hindi ditty comes to mind that fits the situation:
“Parde me rehne do, parda na uthao, parda jo uth gaya toh bhed khul jayega”
Ultimately only a voice vote passed quickly is what played out and the Govt. may have saved the day but lost face somewhat – since an important motion like the Vote of Confidence should be voted upon, specially if the Govt. is in minority as many senior politicians are now pointing out.
The normally soft spoken outgoing CM, Prithvi Raj Chavan was irked enough to call it the “Black day of Indian Democracy”.
Now Congress men are alleging that to remove the lime light from this, a big uproar is being made of the Congress MLAs milling around the Governor’s car trying to make him listen to their complain and protest against the “illegal” voice vote.
A Supreme Court lawyer NT spoke to opined that whenever the Government is considered to be in Minority, counting of votes is de rigor according to highest tenets of Parliamentary Democracy. (It is only when the majority is clearly with the Government and there is no suspense about it that a Voice Vote is acceptable. But that was not the situation in this case). And if this norm is broken the only appeal is to the Speaker. But since the Speaker is from the Ruling Party he is expected to – and did in this case – favour the BJP. After that the only higher authority they could turn to was the Governor, Shri Vidyasagar Rao, and they did so.
According to the Congress version, MLAs tried to stop his car and even lay down on the road to obstruct him from entering the House. But they did no bodily harm as they are being accused of.
“We did not come even within touching distance of him, so where was the possibility of physically harming him?”
What is shown on TV footage also seems to be a confusing scene – one can see Marshals and Security personnel shielding the Governor and pushing away protesting MLAs. Some MLAs are seen crowding the steps leading to the house.
Immediately afterwards, the CM took stern action and suspended five Congress MLAs from the house for two years.
TWO OF THESE MLAs ARE FROM VIDARBHA. VIRENDRA JAGTAP FROM DHAMANGAON RAILWAY AND AMAR KALE FROM WARDHA.
Amar Kale is related to prominent Congress men from Nagpur. He is the son of Anil Deshmukh’s sister and grand son in law of an erst while Union Minister Annasaheb Shinde.His father was Congress MLA for many years. His relatives opine that Amar is such a gentle person that “he could not hurt a fly” so the question of his manhandling the Governor does not arise.
Speaking to the PRESS, Amar Kale has challenged the BJP to prove with proof that he misbehaved with the Governor.
“If they can prove it, I will voluntarily step down for five years – why just two? I was at least fifteen feet away from the Governor, not even close to him. It is only the word of BJP MLA Girish Mahajan that I physically assaulted the Governor. But if Mr. Mahajan fails to provide proof, in all fairness I expect him to resign.”
If the drama in the house lasted a few hours – it played out in front of the New channels for hours afterwards with every party rushing to give its version and blaming the other.
Ramdas Kadam of the Sena rubbishes the allegation of Chagan Bhujbal that Sena MLAs were not present when Voice Vote was taken and says there is no way they would have left since the election of leader of opposition, which position ultimately their leader Eknath Shinde bagged, was slated to happen.
“It was when the order of the proceedings was reversed and the Speaker did not agree to our demand for count of votes that we got agitated and some walked out – not when vote of confidence was being passed by voice vote, unconstitutionally.
It is Bhujbal’s old habit to misinform, in this case he is doing so to curry favour with the BJP, both in Mumbai and Delhi. Don’t be surprised if in a few weeks some NCP leaders are made Ministers both at Delhi and Mumbai! Wait and watch.”
Congress leaders are saying what the BJP plans to do now is suspend at least seven more Congress MLAs till the Nagpur session begins so the total strength of the house comes down and they need only 136 to prove a majority. So if matters come to a count they can get this number with the help of the independents without having to be obliged to the NCP. Once majority is proven in some days they will re instate the suspended MLAs.
But this renders Fadnavis’ government vulnerable to the whims of independents and the NCP. It is a situation that Pawar will love, since manipulations are his forte.
Everyone is wondering why BJP did not follow the logical course and gone with Shiv Sena. They could have been easily given ten to twelve cabinet posts. In fact the CM could have given them sensitive portfolios like Power so if people complained about power scarcity he could have deflected the blame on them! This is what the people of Maharashtra also mandated for and wanted. It would be logical for two parties which have been allies for long years and have similar ideologies to join the Govt together. the numbers would also make such a Govt. very stable and erratic elements like independents would not have been needed.
It is learnt that a big faction of senior BJP leaders in Delhi like Sushma Swaraj, Venkiah Naidu and Advani favored the alliance with the Sena option but they were over ruled by the Modi – Shah combine. “Go forward alone with confidence” seems to be their motto.
:: Sunita Mudilyar