Maharashtra Assembly Elections- A Timeline of Events

The recently concluded elections in Maharashtra created a situation of political turmoil in the state. The pre-poll political alliances fell apart, and what followed was politics over the formation of the government and the game of "majority".

President's rule was declared in the state by the Governor, following which it was revoked overnight and the BJP led alliance supported by Mr.Ajit Pawar, was sworn into power. The Maha Vikas Aghadi comprising of NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena approached the Supreme Court by preferring a writ petition seeking floor test amongst other reliefs. The Supreme Court of India on 26th November 2019 ordered a video-recorded floor test to be conducted in the Maharashtra Assembly within a period of 24 hours. Click here to find a copy of the Order.

Subsequently, Mr. Ajit Pawar resigned as Deputy CM of Maharashtra. Mr. Fadnavis resigned from the post of Chief Minister of Maharashtra citing lack of requisite majority as the reason post the resignation of Mr. Ajit Pawar. On 28th November 2019, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was sworn into power and Mr. Uddhav Thackeray became the 18th Chief Minister of Maharashtra. The government also proved it's majority in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on November 30, 2019.

This Article seeks to interpret certain important terminologies and intricacies of government formation.

What is a Floor Test?

Floor Test is a procedure that requires the sworn-in government to demonstrate that it still enjoys the support of the majority in the legislature. A Chief Minister who is sworn in by the Governor is required to prove his/her majority before the Legislative Assembly of the State.

The Chief Minister is required to move a motion of confidence, and in the event that the Chief Minister fails to prove the majority in the Legislative Assembly, he/she is required to resign.

In the case of SR Bommai v/s Union of India, it was held that -

In our opinion, wherever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House.

In essence, the government which is sworn into power is required to demonstrate that it enjoys the support of the majority members in the Legislative Assembly of the state.

What is Majority?

In order to demonstrate the majority, the government need to prove that it enjoys the support of more than 50% of the members of the Legislative Assembly, in the case of Maharashtra, the total number of members of Legislative Assembly is 288, in order to prove majority, the government was required to prove the support of 145 members.

Constitutional Provision for Floor Test

There is no explicit provision in the Constitution that requires a floor test or provides for a floor test. However, Article 164(2) provides that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State. It, therefore, can be said that the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers need to have the support of the majority of members of the Legislative Assembly in order to stay in power.

The situation leading up to the floor test

Why has the Supreme Court mandated that Floor Test be conducted within 24 hours?

Once the Chief Minister is sworn in, in case the floor test is delayed, there arises a possibility of defection and horse-trading.

What is horse-trading?

Horse-trading refers to offering monetary and/or other perks to members of other political parties by a political party, in order to gain a majority in the Assembly.

What is Defection?

The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution of India lays down the law regarding Anti Defection. The tenth Schedule provides that any member who, at the time of election belongs to a political party, can be disqualified if he/she subsequently-

  1. Voluntarily gives up the membership of the political party;

  2. Such member votes or abstains from voting contrary to the direction issued by the political party, except in cases he has prior approval, or such voting which is against direction is condoned by the political party.

This is subject to certain limitations and exceptions.

The decision as to Disqualification on the ground of defection

The final decision-making power, regarding disqualification on the ground of defection, rests with Speaker/Chairman of the house.

The procedure laid down by the Supreme Court for floor test in this case

The Supreme Court had mandated that-

  1. Pro­tem Speaker shall be solely appointed for the aforesaid agenda immediately

  2. All the elected members shall take oath on 27.11.2019, which should be completed before 5:00 p.m.

  3. Immediately thereafter, the Pro­tem Speaker shall conduct the floor test in order to ascertain whether the Respondent No. 3 has the majority, and these proceedings shall be conducted in accordance with the law. The floor test will not be conducted by a secret ballot.

  4. The proceedings have to be live telecast, and appropriate arrangements are to be made to ensure the same.

Important Terms

Pro Tem Speaker- Literally translated would mean, Speaker for the time being. In other words, a speaker who is appointed temporarily. There is no set rule as to who can be appointed as Pro Tem speaker, however, as a matter of practice, generally the senior-most MLA is appointed, however, there are deviations to this.

Secret Ballot- Secret Ballot signifies that the vote is cast anonymously. In the present case, Secret Ballot has been disallowed by the Supreme Court, which thereby means that 'Open Trust Vote' would be conducted on the floor of the house.


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