Uddhav Thackeray fights back with a town hall
Failing to get justice from constitutional bodies, the Shiv Sena (UBT) chief takes his case to the people' court
Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray pulled a surprise out of his hat by calling a town hall for himself late Tuesday evening, 16 January, and put both Legislative Assembly speaker Rahul Narvekar and the Election Commission on the mat, holding them both as biased, unconstitutional and untruthful in the case of the Shiv Sena split.
Arguing on his behalf before a crowd packed to capacity were Supreme Court advocates Asim Sarode and Rohit Sharma, while his close confidante, advocate Anil Parab—who is also a party MLA and under pressure from the agencies, but still standing by Thackeray—took the people through the paces and made public all videos and written documentation that were presented before the EC, the speaker and the Supreme Court.
The crux of the arguments made by Sarode and Sharma was that both the speaker and the EC had violated Schedule X of the Constitution.
The law is in the words, and the words in Schedule X are quite clear on what constitutes a split and who can be recognised as a political party. And clearly the Shinde group cannot (be thus recognised)Asim Sarode, advocate, for Shiv Sena (UBT)
Going section by section and clause by clause, Sarode explained to the people how the split in the Shiv Sena was unconstitutional and how the Eknath Shinde legislators could not be held as legitimate, as they had neither merged with another party nor formed a party of their own after the break-up — there is no longer a provision in the Constitution to recognise a breakaway group even if it has two-thirds of the original numbers, and its MLAs constitute merely a legislature group and not the main party, he said.
"By the limiting terms of the Constitution, legislators last only five years or less if the House is dissolved before its term. They represent the party's view in the legislature and that party is a permanent entity. Its leader may have another group of legislators elected to the House next term, who again will be the temporary custodians of the party's policies in the House," Sarode said.
Sarode said it was necessary to explain all three terms of the law to the common people in the simplest of terms, in view of the attempt by various forces to "murder" democracy and the Constitution by misinterpreting the law.
This town hall meeting was billed as a "people' court" by the Shiv Sena. Sarode stressed that calling this gathering was necessary because the issue was not limited to just Uddhav Thackeray or his party: "The kind of governance we have today is placing our very democracy under threat and each one of you here today has to judge this for yourself."
Sarode made no bones about naming Rahul Narvekar in every other sentence and calling into question his knowledge of the law, despite his being a law graduate: "I do not know which law school he went to," Sarode said, "but when we were at college, we were taught Maxwell's Interpretation of Statutes, which clearly says the law is what it is and cannot be interpreted to suit your convenience. In case of doubt, you have to look at the objectives and reasons for the law and not rule against that."
"The law is in the words, and the words in Schedule X are quite clear on what constitutes a split and who can be recognised as a political party. And clearly the Shinde group cannot (be thus recognised)," Sarode concluded.
Accusing Narvekar of simply copy-pasting the Election Commission's ruling with regard to the Shiv Sena, Sarode even called into question his legitimacy as a speaker of the Assembly, as he had not resigned from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after assuming office.
"Every speaker has to be neutral," argued Sarode. "He must not belong to any political party. But once he ceases to be speaker, he can constitutionally return to his party and contest any election. But clearly this convention has not been followed in his case.
"However, he has proved a master at turning justice (as laid out be the law) into injustice, by allowing Shinde to pull the bridegroom off his horse and going to wed the bride himself."
Sharma put it in more simple terms: what if you have no legislators in a House? Then do those zero legislators constitute a party? Or if a party has only two MLAs, do they call the shots over the bigger entity of the political party?
In a meeting where the audience's attention was riveted to the video screen for a solid two-and-a-half hours, Parab presented them with all the documentation, backed up with visuals, that showed Uddhav Thackeray had been legitimately elected as party president in 2013 and 2018 — even though the EC held that they had no document after 1999 to establish such a fact.
"The EC requires that a party election be held every five years. So if we had not held one after 1999, why did the commission not derecognise us and why did they accept our AB forms? Was that then not a violation of the law?" Parab queried.
But it was Uddhav Thackeray who threw down the political gauntlet, after all the legal arguments: The Shiv Sena (UBT) had appealed against the speaker's decision to the Supreme Court and, whatever the verdict be, he was ready for a fight.
"Meet me in the maidan," he told Shinde and Narvekar. "Come without your security guards and I too will leave my security detail behind. Then judge for yourselves who the people look upon as the real Shiv Sena.
"I will go to the election with my mashaal (his new party symbol) and you come with the bow and arrow that you have stolen from me. And then let's see who triumphs."
So far, Shinde has not taken the bait.