Maha voice vote strikes jarring note

The newly-elected BJP government in Maharashtra, in its eagerness to validate its rule, has needlessly stumbled while doing so.

Having been elected the single largest party after refusing to bow down to the demands of its erstwhile partner Shiv Sena and going it alone, the BJP need not have worried as Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party had assured it necessary support.

The BJP needed 144 votes to sail through. In the state Vidhan Sabha, it has 122 seats and the NCP, 41.

Speaker Haribhau Bagde asked for a voice vote and based on that, announced that the new government enjoyed the confidence of the House.

Despite demands from the Shiv Sena and the Congress for a division, meaning a physical vote from each legislator present in the House, Bagde refused to acquiesce and declared the motion of confidence passed.

In doing so, Bagde violated the spirit of the legislative voting process where even if a single member of the opposition expresses dissatisfaction at the outcome of a voice vote, a physical vote is taken to reconfirm the results and place on record the exact number of those who voted for, against or abstained from a motion. 

The ensuing anger boiled over leading to the fracas that ensued when Governor C Vidyasagar Rao was entering that hall to address a joint sitting of the bicameral legislature.

In a rare move, five Congress MLAs were suspended for two years for allegedly injuring the governor in the melee.

The opening day of the legislature that could have been used by the BJP to exult in its victory, instead turned out to be one where it had to scramble to defend its actions and made it a controversial start to a five-year term.

The BJP which had won the admiration of its supporters by taking on the Shiv Sena, could have acted with more grace on its first day in office. 

For the Shiv Sena, which is yet to recover from the bewilderment of being cut out of the alliance with the BJP and being edged out of power, the controversy has given an opportunity to have something to hit its former ally with.

Beyond scoring brownie points, what is disturbing in the long-term is that established democratic methods that have served this country’s legislative processes so well are being diluted.

In a parliamentary democracy, today’s opposition was yesterday’s government and today’s government could be tomorrow’s opposition.

In such a situation, by creating a precedence that is out of sync with best practices, the action of one dispensation could come to haunt it when it is its turn to sit in the opposition.

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