On the first day of the Assembly session in Maharashtra on November 30, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis alleged that the oath-taking ceremony of the new government had violated the Constitution.

He was referring to the invocation — by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and each Minister — at the start of the oath, before reading out the text, which he alleged had altered the oath itself.

Thackeray invoked Chattrapati Shivaji and “my parents”; Eknath Shinde named Bal Thackeray, Ananda Dhige, a Thane Shiv Sena leader who died in 2000, Uddhav Thackeray, and Shivaji. Similarly, many other leaders took invocation in name of their leaders or relatives.

Text of the oath

Article 164(3) says: “Before a Minister enters upon his office, the Governor shall administer to him the oaths of office and of secrecy according to the forms set out for the purpose in the Third Schedule.” The Third Schedule requires the taker of the oath to either “swear in the name of God” or to “solemnly affirm” to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution…”.

According to constitutional experts and those familiar with procedures and rules of swearing-in ceremonies, Art 164 makes it clear that the text of the oath is sacrosanct, and the person taking the oath has to read it out exactly as it is, in the given format. If a person wanders from the text, it is the responsibility of the person administering the oath — in this instance the Governor — to interrupt and ask the person being sworn in to read it out correctly.

Instances of deviation

The most famous case of a political leader changing the oath was in 1989, when Devi Lal inserted the words “Deputy Prime Minister” as he was being sworn in to Prime Minister V P Singh’s cabinet, and was corrected by President R Venkataraman.

In 2012, Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party had to retake his oath in Uttar Pradesh after he skipped the oath of office, and only took the oath of secrecy.

Fadnavis’s objections

According to former Maharashtra Advocate General Shreehari Aney: “It is the content of the oath that is important. That should be as per the format laid down in the Constitution. Addition something before or after the oath is not unlawful as long as the substance of the oath is unaltered.”

Role of the Governor

The Governor’s approval is key. According to experts, if the person administering the oath approves the oath, the matter is closed. Immediately on taking the oath, the person who has been sworn in, must sign a register. The register is attested by the Secretary to the Governor, which means it has been approved by the Governor. In Maharashtra, that approval was also formalised by a gazette notification on the appointment of the Chief Minister and six ministers, which was issued on November 30.

Source: The Indian Express

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance