Sharad Pawar faction can use 'NCP-Sharadchandra Pawar' name till further orders: SC

SC allows Pawar to move EC for allocation of the party symbol

Sharad Pawar | PTI Sharad Pawar | PTI

The Supreme Court, on Monday, directed that Election Commission's order of February 7 allotting 'Nationalist Congress Party-Sharadchandra Pawar' as the party name for the Sharad Pawar faction will continue till further orders.

A bench of Justices Surya Kant and K.V. Viswanathan sought response of Ajit Pawar-led faction on a plea of Sharad Pawar against the February 6 order of Election Commission recognising the Maharashtra deputy chief minister-led group as the real Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

"We would like to examine the matter," the bench said as it issued notice to the Ajit Pawar led-faction.

The bench gave liberty to Sharad Pawar to move the Election Commission for allocation of the party symbol and directed the poll panel to allot it in one week of the application.

The bench, which appeared critical of the EC's February 6 order on recognising the real NCP, said, "The order says both of you (factions) violated the party constitution, both of you went against the 'aims and objective' and yet no one is disqualified. Just imagine what would happen to the voters, who voted for you."

During the hearing, Justice Viswanathan, while referring to the recent situation in Pakistan, said, "At some stage, let the voter have some say. It will cause chaos. I don't want to draw an analogy but If you're following the elections from across the border, the whole thing happened because someone wanted the 'bat' symbol and it was not given."

Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for Sharad Pawar, said the order passed by the Election Commission on February 7 is an interim arrangement made by the poll panel for Rajya Sabha elections till February 27.

"The budget session of Maharashtra assembly is scheduled to start from February 26 and our group will be without any name or symbol after February 27," he submitted.

The senior lawyer further contended "the order said that Ajit Pawar side is the real NCP, which we will contest at a later stage but for Rajya Sabha elections, Sharad Pawar can use the name as a one-time measure. After February 27, technically I will be nameless, symbol less and will be bound to obey the whip of Ajit Pawar".

The bench told Singhvi that it cannot regulate the proceedings of the House.

Singhvi said he is not seeking any such direction but only asking for a directive that the EC's order of February 7 should be continued till the general elections are over and a party symbol be given because by the end of this month pamphlets and banners for the upcoming polls will start printing.

Singhvi added that there is a constitution bench verdict on a similar issue in 'Shiv Sena' matter.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, along with advocate Abhikalp Pratap Singh, for Ajit Pawar faction on a caveat said that the constitution bench verdict on 'Shiv Sena' was entirely on different facts and there is no similarity with this case.

The bench said that no one challenged the concession given by EC for one-time option in view of the Rajya Sabha elections and the relief was given by the poll panel on its own.

To Rohatgi's opposition to the order passed by the court, the bench told him, "You have a clock symbol. Ultimately, people will vote looking at Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar. We have the most intelligent voters in our country."

The top court gave one week to Ajit Pawar faction to file its reply to the plea of Sharad Pawar, who will file a rejoinder in further two weeks.

Sharad Pawar had sought an urgent hearing of his plea in the top court in the wake of twin blows suffered by the group led by him and the consequential fear of facing action for possible violations of whip by his MLAs.

Maharashtra Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar on February 15 held that the NCP faction led by Ajit Pawar was the real NCP and that the anti-defection provisions in the Constitution cannot be used to stifle internal dissent.

Prior to this, the Election Commission announced on February 7 that the Ajit Pawar faction is the real NCP and also allotted the party's 'clock' symbol to the group.

Pawar senior, who founded the NCP with former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar in 1999 after their expulsion from the Congress, filed the petition through lawyer Abhishek Jebaraj.

Ajit Pawar had walked away with a majority of NCP MLAs in July last year and supported the BJP-Shiv Sena government led by Eknath Shinde.

"...this commission holds that the faction led by the petitioner, Sh Ajit Anantrao Pawar, is the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and is entitled to use its name and reserved symbol 'clock' for the purposes of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968," the EC had said in its February 6 order.

The commission had said there were serious inconsistencies in terms of timelines in the claim of the Sharad Pawar group on organisational majority, which resulted in unreliability of their claim.

Then came the decision of assembly Speaker Narwekar on February 15, the deadline fixed by the top court for deciding disqualification pleas.

The speaker, in his elaborate decision, had dismissed the disqualification petitions filed by the factions led by Ajit Pawar and his uncle Sharad Pawar against each other's legislators.

Narwekar noted that the Ajit Pawar group had "overwhelming legislative majority" of 41 out of 53 party MLAs when it decided to join the Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra in July 2023.

The Ajit Pawar group was, thus, the "real political party" when the factions emerged, the speaker said.

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