With 14 MLAs disqualified, Karnataka Speaker blunts BJP’s counterblow
Karnataka speaker KR Ramesh Kumar on Sunday disqualified 14 rebel lawmakers whose decision to skip a trust vote last week toppled the state government -- a ruling that came a day ahead of a floor test where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely seen to have the edge.
Kumar said the 14 legislators – 11 from the Congress and three from its ally, the Janata Dal (Secular) – stood disqualified until the term of the current assembly, due to end in 2023, and could not even contest bypolls. The decision also forecloses the possibility of any of the rebel legislators being named as ministers in the new government. He said, however, that they would be free to contest if fresh assembly elections were called.
The rebels said they will move the Supreme Court on Monday against this “unconstitutional” decision, and some constitutional experts said the ruling — including the decision to bar them from contesting in bypolls — was based on Kumar’s interpretation of Article 164 1(b) of the Constitution, which deals with disqualification, and was bound to be challenged.
Kumar, who disqualified three other rebel MLAs last Thursday, stressed that he had been impartial but had to hurry because he was asked to preside over Monday’s floor test.
“This cannot be a drama or manipulation or under pressure. I have been consistently behaving in a manner that a gentleman ought to behave,” the speaker said, insisting that he had stuck to the timeline he had set for himself. “The way I am being pressurised mentally as speaker to deal with all these things, I am pushed into a sea of depression,” added Kumar.
ALSO WATCH | BJP’s BS Yediyurappa takes oath as Karnataka CM for fourth time
The order brings the strength of the 225-member assembly down to 208, and the halfway mark to 105. The BJP has 105 MLAs, and is likely to get the support of independent lawmaker H Nagesh. In last Tuesday’s floor test, the coalition got 99 votes, losing by six votes to mark the end of the 14-month rule as chief minister of HD Kumaraswamy.
“On Monday, 100% I will prove the majority,” chief minister BS Yediyurappa, who was sworn in on Friday, told reporters in Bengaluru. He also announced that he will take up the finance bill, whose passage is necessary to pay government salaries, after the trust vote.
Some BJP leaders said they were unlikely to bring a motion to remove Kumar on Monday. According to the law, such a motion can only be taken up after 14 days and needs a simple majority of the assembly to pass.
The rebels said they will move the apex court on Monday to challenge their disqualification, which they argued was illegal. “We will question everything based on the prevailing law,” said dissident JD(S) lawmaker AH Vishwanath.
Rebel Congress leader Pratapgouda Patil put out a video addressing his constituents and said they need not fear the disqualification order. “We will challenge this in the Supreme Court and we are confident that the court will redress this soon. There is no need for any fear,” he added.
Of the 14 disqualified legislators, 13 had also tendered their resignation roughly three weeks ago that triggered the turmoil in the coalition government. One member, Shrimanth Patil, did not resign but skipped the floor test.
Kumar said he had rejected the resignations because the former MLAs had failed to appear before him to convince of the voluntary and genuine nature of their resignations.
The fate of the lone Bahujan Samaj Party MLA, N Mahesh, continued to be unclear.
Kumar confirmed he received a letter from the BSP expelling him for not attending the trust vote in violation of the party order, but said he was yet to decide on the issue. He also said that he would take a call if a motion to remove him is moved in the assembly. “I have a responsibility of ensuring the passage of the finance bill on Monday,” he said.
The Congress welcomed Kumar’s decision to disqualify the legislators. “I believe this decision will put an end to the shabby culture of selling oneself by disregarding the public mandate for selfish motives and the greed for power,” said former chief minister Siddaramaiah.
In a tweet, the JD(S) welcomed the speaker’s decision. “The speaker has sent a strong message to those who tried to uproot democracy by disqualifying legislators who fell for allurements of power and money, disregarded public mandate and violated the party whip.”
The BJP criticised the ruling. Senior BJP lawmaker JC Madhuswamy said the apex court had only asked the speaker to ascertain if the resignations were genuine or voluntary. “We feel that somewhere he might have exceeded his powers,” he said. “The Supreme Court had said the MLAs could not be compelled, so there is question of whether it was right for the speaker to consider the whip issued by the legislature parties,” he said.
Constitutional expert Babu Mathew, programme coordinator at Bengaluru’s National Law School of India University, said the order was set to be challenged. “The speaker can give a ruling but that is not immune from being challenged in the court,” he said.
Mathew said that the speaker’s decision that the rebels can’t contest by-elections was based on one interpretation of Article 164 (1B) of the Constitution. “This is why I said it is subject to judicial review,” he added.