There is high tension in corridors of power in Maharashtra as Speaker of the legislative assembly Rahul Narvekar is all set to announce his verdict on Wednesday at 4 p.m. on the disqualification of chief minister Eknath Shinde and his 36 MLAs who ditched the erstwhile Uddhav Thackeray government in June 2022 and joined hands with the BJP to form a coalition government.
A new twist was added to the high-voltage drama with Mr Thackeray filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Wednesday accusing Mr Narvekar of political partiality.
Even if the verdict goes against Shinde & Co, there will be no immediate danger to the government since the BJP with its 105 MLAs will continue to have the support of 38 MLAs of the NCP (Ajit Pawar) and some independents in a 288 member House. In fact, sources said after splitting the Shiv Sena, deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP split the NCP led by Sharad Pawar also precisely to have a cushion in the event of Shinde and his team getting disqualified.
Uddhav camp not very hopeful
However, the opposition led by the Shiv Sena (UBT) is not very hopeful of a verdict in its favour. The party has already questioned the impartiality of Mr Narvekar, who is an advocate belonging to the BJP before he was elected Speaker. Both Mr Uddhav Thackeray and his party spokesperson Sanjay Raut slammed Mr Narvekar for allegedly cosying up to Mr Shinde on the eve of the verdict. Mr Thackeray sarcastically described the two recent meetings between Mr Shinde and Mr Narvekar as meetings between “an accused and a judge.” Political observers say that Mr Narvekar should not only be neutral, but also appear to be so. But, by meeting the CM he has himself provoked the opposition to question his impartiality and thus has lowered the stature of his office.
Mr Narvekar's verdict will be in response to 34 petitions moved by both the factions of the Shiv Sena. Sources said the Speaker may read out only the operative part of his judgment on Wednesday, which is the last date given by the Supreme Court to pronounce his verdict.
The Thackeray faction initiated disqualification proceedings against Mr Shinde and his group on June 25, 2022 when it issued notices to all the defecting MLAs. The rebels were given 48 hours to respond. However, this was challenged by Shinde in the Supreme Court. The apex court in a verdict, which raised eyebrows in legal circles, gave Shinde 12 days to respond while the normal time is only seven days.
Narvekar in the midst of a controversy
This is not the first time Mr Narvekar, who has himself changed his political loyalties more than once, has found himself in the midst of a controversy.
In October 2023, the Supreme Court came down heavily on him for the delay in deciding the pleas filed by the Thackeray faction seeking the disqualification of Shinde and the "rebel" MLAs.
Mr Narvekar's order is expected to deal with the tenth schedule of the Constitution which makes it clear that legislators who have defected from their party invite disqualification. The Thackeray group has contended that the Shinde group's disregard of the party whip, appointment of a new deputy Speaker, the call for a floor test and claim of majority all clearly prove defection. Mr Thackeray further contended that by calling for a floor test the then governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari had effectively recognised a split in his party which was an illegal act.