A floor test scheduled to be held on June 30 could decide the continuity of the incumbent Government of Maharashtra led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray as his party battles a fierce internal rebellion.
The vote has been called by the Governor of Maharashtra, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari.
The spearhead of this schism is Eknath Shinde of the Shiv Sena, who is set to come to Mumbai in anticipation of this showdown. He claims to have enough Members of Legislative Assembly with him to vote against the Shiv Sena led government without attracting provisions of the anti-defection law.
The Shiv Sena has 56 members in Assembly and the party is in an awkward alliance with the ideologically opposite Congress (with 44 MLAs) and the Nationalist Congress Party (54 MLAs) - a total of 154 seats. The Assembly has 288 members, with a majority mark of 145. While Shinde would need 37 members to defect to another party and cross vote (two third of the Sena's strength of 56), it would just need 10 to topple the government in a floor test.
Floor tests, also called a trust vote or a vote of confidence, is the way by which the executive branch of government is accountable to the legislature, which in turn is elected by the people and represents their will. For a government to continue to function, it must command the confidence of the lower house of legislature - the Lok Sabha at the union-level and Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly) at the state level.
Who calls for a trust vote?
At the state level, the Governor calls for a trust vote and is constitutionally empowered to do so. While a newly formed government usually faces a floor test to prove its majority, the Governor can call for it anytime.
As reported by LiveLaw, the Supreme Court had ruled in 2020 during the political crisis in Madhya Pradesh, which saw the downfall of the government led by Kamal Nath, that the Governor may call for a trust vote even during the tenure of the government just like he or she may call for it at its formation.
How does the vote take place?
The legislature is convened for the vote, which is presided over by the Speaker.
If the Speaker has not yet been elected, for when a floor test is being called by a newly formed government right after an election, the floor test is presided over by a Speaker Pro Tem. This post is chosen by the Governor.
While the Speaker is ordinarily elected from among the MLAs (or Members of Lok Sabha), the Speaker Pro Tem is traditionally the senior most member of the House. However, this is just an unwritten convention, and research by PRS Legislative shows that this has been broken several times in the past.
PRS Legislative documents that during the Karnataka floor test in 2018, the Governor appointed two-time Speaker, KG Bopaiah of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as Speaker Pro Tem, despite not being the senior-most member of the assembly. The Supreme Court scrapped a plea against his appointment.
Further, they also conveyed that the Speaker Pro Tem does not have much discretion in carrying out the floor test, as the Supreme Court has prescribed several safeguards depending on the case. In Karnataka, in 2018, the proceedings were broadcast live and in Jharkhand in 2005, the Supreme Court pulled up the police to ensure that all MLAs could attend the proceedings,
In 2016, during the Uttarakhand floor test, the Supreme Court directed supporting and opposing MLAs to explicitly line up physically on different sides of House, so their count could be taken, and the result be delivered to the Court in a sealed envelope.
This can be read here.
The symbolism behind floor tests
The day of the floor test is one of great political commotion. This is especially prominent in states where political drama has taken place, similar to the developments currently ensuing in Maharashtra.
While a floor test is held later in the day, the session of the House starts a few hours earlier.
While the letter released by Koshiyari on the floor test states that it needs to concluded by 5pm, the session itself will start at 11am.
These sessions are witness to political manoeuvring and symbolism, with prominent voices within the government and opposition called to speak on the state of affairs on politics and the quality of governance.
High profile cases also exist where the government knows that it would not be able to muster enough support in the floor test, but takes advantage of this session before the vote to score political points.
For example, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee famously resigned after just 13 days, ending his first tenure in 1999, after the BJP failed to gather enough votes in the Lok Sabha on May 28. He delivered an impassioned speech on the state of politics and rallied against the then opposition, led by the United Front, famously ending his speech by saying in Hindi, "Mr. Speaker! I am going to give my resignation letter to the President", causing the Speaker to call off the vote itself. The transcript of this speech with Lok Sabha can be found here.
Years later, in 2018, then Chief Minister of Karnataka B.S. Yediyurappa after the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the State Assembly, but could not form the government. He emphatically stated that the mandate was not in the favour of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), which combined to form a short-lived government in the state, and that he had travelled across the state to personally see the pain the previous Congress-led government (from 2013 to 2018) had inflicted on the people.
Similar to Vajpayee, Yediyurappa finished his speech and handed over his resignation to the Governor without actually facing a vote.
This can be read here.
Do you always want to share the authentic news with your friends?