Supreme Court to hear pleas on Madhya Pradesh floor test today

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought responses from Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath and speaker NP Prajapati on a petition by 10 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs seeking an immediate floor test while the Congress filed a separate plea saying the test could not be conducted as 16 lawmakers had been held “captive” in Bengaluru.

The 22 Congress lawmakers from the state present in Bengaluru appeared before the media on Tuesday and said they were with BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia and had not been held captive. The MLAs said they were willing to return to Madhya Pradesh immediately if provided Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) security.

“The floor test can happen only when all the elected lawmakers are present in the assembly,” the Congress party said in its petition.

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Facing a constitutional crisis, the Kamal Nath-led Congress government did not hold a floor test in the state assembly on Tuesday despite governor Lalji Tandon’s suggestion to go for it.

The governor asked the CM to seek a trust vote in the House on Monday. When that did not happen, the governor sent another letter to Nath on Monday to face a floor test by Tuesday, failing which, he warned, the CM would be considered to have lost his majority in the House.

Governor Tandon could not be reached for comments.

The Supreme Court gave liberty to the petitioners to serve a notice on the chief minister, the speaker and the state government through email considering the urgency of the situation in the state assembly and posted the case for further hearing at 10.30am on Wednesday.

“Issue notice in view of the urgency of the situation. Liberty granted to issue notice on email,” the order said.

The petitioners led by former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had rushed to the Supreme Court seeking an immediate floor test after the state assembly was, on Monday, adjourned by the speaker till March 26 citing health concerns due to the coronavirus epidemic.

The 10 MLAs submitted that the Nath government had lost its majority after the resignation of 22 MLAs and did not have the moral, legal or constitutional right to remain in office.

“…on account of lack of confidence and resignation of 22 MLAs of Congress party, out of which the resignation of six MLAs having been already accepted by Hon’ble speaker, the government led by Hon’ble chief minister has been reduced to minority and a floor test is a constitutional imperative,” the BJP MLAs submitted.

During the hearing, the bench of justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta noted the concerns raised by senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the BJP MLAs, that the Congress was trying to buy time by not appearing in the case.

“This case shows travesty of justice. The other side deliberately did not appear,” Rohatgi said.

The court said it would have to issue a notice in the matter and hear the other side.

“The appropriate thing would be for us to issue a short notice and hear this tomorrow,” justice Chandrachud said.

The Congress petition contended that if 22 MLAs had resigned then a floor test could not be held with those seats vacant as the electorate of those constituencies, almost 10% of the total seats, would be unrepresented.

Such a trust vote, it contended, would be a “complete sham” and “antithetical to the principle of representative democracy”.

The Congress sought the intervention of the court to enable the party to communicate with its 16 MLAs in captivity.

“The actions of the respondents raise larger issues of Constitutional propriety and morality as to whether the union government and/or state government can use the official machinery of the centre as well as the states to foster the prospects of any political party,” the petition said.

It said while the 16 MLAs had resigned from the assembly, they had not done so from the primary membership of the Congress party.

The petition filed by the Congress will be heard on Wednesday along with the one by the BJP MLAs.

The Congress government’s problems began last week after 22 MLAs resigned from the assembly in the wake of former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia joining the BJP. The speaker later accepted the resignations of six members, bringing the strength of the House to 222, with the majority mark at 112.

Before the crisis, the Congress had 114 MLAs, and enjoyed the support of four independent legislators, two MLAs of the Bahujan Samaj Party and one legislator of the Samajwadi Party. The BJP has 107 MLAs.

Notably, 17 of these 22 MLAs including the six ministers went incommunicado on March 9. They were later found staying in a resort in Bengaluru. Two Congress MLAs had already been staying there since March 3 while the others joined them later.

Speaking to the media, former health minister Tulsiram Silavat said, “The state assembly election in 2018 was contested by the Congress by projecting the face of senior leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath but party leadership made Kamal Nath chief minister. The moment Nath became CM his behaviour changed completely. He didn’t have time to meet his ministers, not to speak of MLAs. The officers are more powerful than the ministers.”

Another former minister Govind Rajput said, “In every cabinet meeting there was some proposal or the other for Chhindwara (CM’s constituency). The CM behaved as if he was a CM of Chhindwara only, not entire Madhya Pradesh. We had to struggle for even insignificant work related to our constituencies. I could not help anyone in my constituency to have even a gun licence or in transfer matters. No development work was done in my constituency.”

Former minister Imrati Devi said all the MLAs were with Scindia and they will oppose Nath. “We will decide on joining the BJP later after a discussion,” she said.

Congress MLA Rajvardhan Singh said, “When the state cabinet was constituted there were at least 10 senior leaders among MLAs who deserved to be inducted in the cabinet but their merit and seniority were overlooked whereas in a blatant practice of nepotism Digvijaya Singh’s son and nephew were made ministers.”

In reply to a question whether they would join the BJP, the MLAs said they would sit together and decide later. One of the 22 MLAs, Bisahulal Singh, said, “I have already joined the BJP.”

Nath could not be reached for his comments. However, his media coordinator Narendra Saluja released a number of video clips on the six former ministers in which they were seen praising Nath’s leadership and thanking him for development work in their respective constituencies.

Saluja said, “The video clips of the former ministers are self-explanatory that the former ministers are telling a lie. The chief minister gave enough time to each of the MLAs and listened to them. He also sanctioned development projects for the entire state. And if they are levelling allegations of corruption in the government they should also make it clear were they also involved in the corrupt practices?”

Assembly speaker Prajapati wrote to the governor over the security of the MLAs.

Talking to the media, he said, “Given the circumstances there is doubt if MLAs submitted their resignations at will as neither they nor any of their kin submitted the resignations to me. None of them turned up before me to explain their stand in response to notices sent to them. They didn’t attend the state assembly proceedings on March 16 either.”

Earlier, referring to the governor’s observation that the CM avoided a floor test, Nath said in his letter to the governor, “I proved my majority in the House several times in the past 15 months. Since the BJP is making the accusation that I don’t enjoy a majority in the House it can get a floor test done through a no-confidence motion. I have learnt that the BJP has submitted a notice to the governor for a no-confidence motion which is pending before the speaker. Once proceedings take place on this I will prove my majority in the House.”

“I want to reassure you that let the 16 MLAs be free and stay home in an open atmosphere for 5 to 7 days without any fear and pressure on them so that they could take their decisions at will. Your opinion that if I don’t go for a floor test by March 17 and prove my majority I will be considered to have lost my majority will be unconstitutional, having no foundation. I have also learnt that BJP leaders have filed a petition in court.”

A delegation of BJP leaders called on the governor on Tuesday afternoon and complained that the Congress government was avoiding a floor test on some pretext or the other.

The BJP legislature party’s chief whip Narottam Mishra said, “The chief minister is looking for some pretext or the other since he lost majority to avoid a floor test. Had he enjoyed a majority he would have gone for a floor test by now. He must admit that his government is a minority government, hence he doesn’t have legal and moral authority to remain in power.”