The poll panel said it has strengthened its existing transfer policy to ensure that officials are not able to disturb the “level playing field” in the elections.
In a major setback to former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to stay the Election Commission’s (EC) February 17 order allotting both Shiv Sena party’s name and its symbol ‘Bow and Arrow’ to the rival faction led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
Issuing notice to the Shinde faction to respond to a petition by Thackeray group challenging the February 17 EC order, a bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justice P S Narasimha and Justice J B Pardiwala said, “We can’t stay the order at this stage.”
Giving Sinde faction two weeks’ time to respond to the petition by Thackeray group, the court gave a week’s time, thereafter, to Thackeray faction to file rejoinder to Shinde faction’s reply.
The court in the interregnum permitted the Thackeray faction to use the name Shiv Sena (Uddhav Bal Thackeray) and the election symbol of ‘Flaming Torch’ that was earlier allotted to it by the poll panel.
Appearing for the Thackeray faction, senior advocate Kapil Sibal asked the court to grant an interim relief or at least pass a status quo order to prevent the Shinde group taking over Sena’s bank accounts, and offices.
Sibal said that the Shinde faction after being recognised as real Shiv Sena would now issue a whip to them to vote in Shinde group favour, failing which fresh disqualification proceedings would be taken out.
As CJI Chandrachud referred to an earlier undertaking by Shinde group that it will not precipitate the matter, senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul appearing for Shinde faction assured the court that it would not precipitate the matter.
Refusing to pass any interim order including that of the status quo as sought by Sibal, the CJI Chandrachud said that the challenge before them is the February 17 poll panel’s order and the party office, the bank accounts and other assets are not covered by it and are a separate issue.
Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, who appeared for Shinde faction in a caveat, at the outset, raised questions on the maintainability of Thackeray group’s petition challenging the poll panel’s order.
Assailing the EC’s order, Sibal said that the poll panel has decided to allot the Shiv Sena name and its election symbol ‘Bow and Arrow’ on the basis of the support enjoyed by Eknath Shinde in the Maharashtra assembly and the Lok Sabha and not on the basis of the standing and support he enjoys in the Shiv Sena party.
Defending the February 17 order, Neeraj Kishan Kaul said that the poll panel took recourse to the support enjoyed by the Shinde in the legislative party and the Lok Sabha because it did not have a copy of Shiv sena constitution in its records.
Thackeray faction’s plea has said that the Election Commission has failed to appreciate that they enjoy overwhelming support in the rank and file of the party.
“The petitioner has an overwhelming majority in the Pratinidhi Sabha, which is the apex representative body, representing the wishes of the primary members and other stakeholders of the party. The Pratinidhi Sabha is the apex body recognised under Article VIII of the (Shiv Sena) Party constitution. The petitioner enjoys the support of 160 members out of approximately 200 odd members in the Pratinidhi Sabha”, says the plea by Thackeray faction.
The plea has contended that the poll panel has failed to discharge its duties as a neutral arbiter of disputes under para 15 of the symbols order and has acted in a manner undermining its constitutional status.
On February 17, the Election Commission allotted the Shiv Sena party name and the bow and arrow symbol to the faction led by Eknath Shinde.
“The ECI has disregarded the party constitution of 2018 (which was admitted even by the respondent No.1 to be the Constitution governing the parties) on the ground that such a constitution is undemocratic and that it was not communicated to the Commission. These observations are totally erroneous as the amendments in the Constitution were categorically communicated to the Commission in 2018 itself and the petitioner will place clear evidence in this regard,” said the plea.