The Shiv Sena group led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde received a shot in the arm on Tuesday when Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla recognised Rahul Shewale as the party’s floor leader in the lower house.
A circular from the Lok Sabha Secretariat on Tuesday evening refreshed the party’s position in the House, “consequent to the change of the leader of the Shiv Sena party in the Lok Sabha”. It mentions that Shewale will be the floor leader of the 19-member party.
The recognition came a day before the Supreme Court takes up for hearing a clutch of petitions on the dispute between Shinde and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. While the Thackeray camp claims the Shinde-led government in the state is “illegal” until the top court decides on disqualifications, the rebels claim they are the real Sena with an overwhelming majority of party MLAs.
The Shinde group has also approached the Election Commission for recognition as Shiv Sena.
Shewale, 49, a two-time MP from the Mumbai South Central constituency, has been associated with the Shiv Sena for more than two decades and was the first party MP to write a letter to Thackeray, urging him to support Draupadi Murmu in the presidential election.
Sources in the Lok Sabha Secretariat said Birla has taken into account the legal position taken in the past. He pointed out that in 1988, the Attorney General submitted to the Supreme Court that there were differences of opinion between a party leader and a floor leader.
“Whoever comes to the Speaker with a majority of MPs seeking to change the party leader in the House will have to be accepted after verifying credentials of MPs who are supporting (her/him),” an LS Secretariat official said. “In this case, the Speaker’s office has verified that 12 of 19 MPs are requesting a change of leadership in the House.”
The Delhi High Court recently upheld the Speaker’s decision to recognize Pashupati Paras as the floor leader of the LJP, the official said. The High Court had dismissed a petition filed by Chirag Paswan, son of party founder late Ram Vilas Paswan, against the Speaker’s decision to recognize Paras.
The LJP was also in trouble after Paras and four other MPs removed Chirag as party president and party leader in the Lok Sabha.
Earlier on Tuesday, MPs from the Shinde camp had approached Birla and sought recognition of their group as the official party, among other demands. Sources said the Speaker had instructed Srikant Shinde, Sena MP from Kalyan and son of the CM, who met him along with a few other party MPs, that they should present a letter from the party whip in the House, Bhavana Gawali, with signatures of at least two-thirds of the total Lok Sabha strength of Sena.
Shiv Sena has 18 MPs; and Dadra and Nagar Haveli MP, Kalaben Delkar, is affiliated with the party in the Lok Sabha.
During their meeting with Birla, the MPs made four demands: to recognise them as the real Sena; provide them separate seating arrangements in Lok Sabha; accept Gawali as their chief whip, and recognise Shewale as leader of the party in the House.
The Maharashtra CM, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP leaders during the day, convened a meeting in the evening at son Srikant’s residence and discussed ways to “resolve the technical problem”.
Before the Shinde group approached Birla, the party’s present leader in Lok Sabha, Vinayak Raut, had written to Birla and informed him about removing Gawali as chief whip and replacing her with Rajan Baburao Vichare, MP from Thane. Sources said Birla had asked the Thackeray camp MPs, too, to bring signatures of a majority of party MPs to accept their demand, but they could not.
Sources in BJP claimed the Shinde group will get the backing of the required numbers to protect themselves from provisions of the anti-defection law. They said seven MPs are with Uddhav at present: Raut (MP from Ratnagiri Sindhudurg), former Union minister Arvind Sawant (Mumbai-South), Vichare, Sanjay Jadav (Parbhani MP), Delkar, Chandrakant Kiritkar (Mumbai North-West) and Omprakash Rejnimbalkar (Osmanabad).
According to BJP sources, at least three of the seven MPs are likely to join the Shinde group.
Under the anti-defection law, a member of a legislature can be disqualified if he or she has voluntarily given up membership of her/his political party; and if he/she votes or abstains from voting in the House, contrary to any direction issued by their party (or by any person or authority authorised by the party). There is a provision to protect such legislators from disqualification — if two-thirds of members agree to merge with another party, they will not be disqualified.
The move comes almost a month after the Shiv Sena revolt, in which more than two-thirds of Maharashtra’s legislators joined rebel party MLA Eknath Shinde, paving the way for a new government in alliance with the BJP.