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The Supreme Court has, in the judgment of the case- Sau. Sangeeta Sunil Shinde v. State of Maharashtra and others, delivered on September 1, 2021, ruled in most clear terms that in a democratic set up, the will of the majority has to prevail. A division bench of the SC consisting of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Bhushan R. Gavai has referred to the provisions of section 28 of the U.P. Kshetra Panchayat and Zilla Panchayats Act, 1961, held valid in the SC judgment of the case- Usha Bharti v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2014) 7 SCC 663.

The SC has pointed out that section 28 ensures that an elected representative can only stay in power so long as such person enjoys the support of the majority of the elected members of the Zila Panchayat. As soon as such a person loses the confidence of the majority, he becomes unwanted.

The appellant approached the SC being aggrieved by the judgment and the order passed by the Bombay HC’s Aurangabad Bench on March 30, 2021. The HC had dismissed her writ petition against the order passed by the Collector, Ahmednagar on January 6, 2020 whereby the Collector had granted approval to the selection of the respondent-3, Dr Vandana Dnyaneshwar Murkute as Gatneta (Group Leader) of the INC Shrirampur Panchayat Samiti Party (INCPS).

The first meeting of the INCPS Party was held on March 1, 2017.The said meeting was presided over by Jayantrao Sasane, the then President of the Ahmednagar District INC Party. As per the resolution passed in the said meeting, it was resolved to select the appellant as Gatneta of the INCPS Party.

The election to the post of Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Shrirampur Panchayat Samiti was held on January 7, 2020. In the said election the appellant came to be elected as Chairman of the Panchayat Samiti. Prior to the said election, two conflicting whips came to be issued insofar as INCPS Party is concerned. One whip was issued by the respondent-3 directing therein that in the election for the post of Chairman, she was given candidature by the INCPS Party whereas for the post of Vice-Chairman, respondent-4 was given candidature by the INCPS Party.

It was, therefore, all the INCPS Party members were directed to remain present in the election meeting and vote in favour of these two candidates. It was further directed that in the event of failure to comply with the same, it would be treated as defection/ anti-party activity and necessary action would be taken in accordance with law.

Another whip was issued by the appellant, directing the members of the Party stating therein that the INCPS Party had given candidature to the appellant herself and all the members should cast vote in her favour. Subsequent to the election, disqualification proceedings being Disqualification Petition No.1 was filed by the appellant against respondents - Dr Murkute and two other respondents -4 and 5, whereas Disqualification Petition No.2 was filed by the respondent-3 Dr Murkute against the appellant.

It is pertinent to note that in the election for the post of Chairman (Sabhapati) held on January 7.2020, except the appellant, all the members of the Party voted against the appellant. However, on account of the support of the members belonging to other parties, the appellant succeeded in getting elected in the said election.

The appellant thereafter approached the High Court’s division bench at Aurangabad by filing a writ petition challenging the decision of the District Collector approving the appointment of respondent-3 as Gatneta. On January 31, 2020, the HC issued notice in the said petition and by way of interim direction stayed the disqualification proceedings filed by both the parties. The HC passed the impugned judgment dismissing the said petition. This judgment was challenged by the appellant before the SC in these proceedings.

The SC has clearly held that the leader of a municipal party has to be chosen by aghadi or front and not by any outsider. SC has held that the change of leader has to be in the same democratic process of induction, in the absence of any other method prescribed under the Rules concerned. It has further been held that once the birth of a leader in a group is by way of election by the group, the Group Leader thus elected cannot be replaced otherwise than through the very same process of the election in the group, in the absence of any rules to the contra. It has been clearly held that imposition of a Group Leader otherwise than by the democratic process cuts at the roots of the democracy and certainly it is in violation of the Rules.

The SC has stated that it is unable to agree with the contention by the appellant’s counsel, Shekhar Nafde that the appellant has been removed and respondent -3 has been appointed as Group Leader by an outsider that is, President of Ahmednagar District INC Party. The election of the appellant as Group Leader was under the resolution in the meeting attended by all the four elected members and the said meeting was only chaired by the President of the District INC Party. Similarly, the removal of the appellant and appointment of respondent-3 is by INCPS Party, however, consisting of three members since the appellant had chosen the different path.
The SC has pointed out that the appellant was elected as Gatneta when she enjoyed the support of all the members of the Party. However, after she decided to walk on a different path, she lost support of majority of the INCPS Party and as such, could not have thrust her leadership on the majority. No doubt, that the said Act and the said Rules are in tune with the provisions contained in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution of India, so as to prevent horse-trading and maintain purity in the political system but, at the same time, the provisions cannot be interpreted in a manner that one person in minority will thrust himself/herself upon the other members who are in absolute majority.

The Court has commented that it is amazed to hear the argument of horse-trading from the mouth of the appellant. It is the appellant, who has acted contrary to the wishes of the Party and chose to contest the election of the Chairman of the Panchayat Samiti with the support of the rival group. It is for anybody to guess as to who has indulged in horse-trading.

In conclusion, the Court has said that it does not find any reason to interfere with the view taken by the High Court and accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.

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