Karnataka Speaker disqualifies 3 rebel MLAs, keeps others on tenterhooks
In a press conference in Bengaluru, Kumar announced that Congress MLAs Ramesh Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumathahalli and Ranebennur legislator R Shankar stood disqualified.Updated: Jul 25, 2019 23:48 IST
Karnataka speaker KR Ramesh Kumar disqualified three rebel lawmakers on Thursday and said decisions on other dissident MLAs would be pronounced soon, adding to the suspense of government formation in the southern state days after the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition was toppled in a trust vote.
In a press conference in Bengaluru, Kumar announced that Congress MLAs Ramesh Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumathahalli and Ranebennur legislator R Shankar stood disqualified. Jarkiholi and Kumathahalli were part of the 15 MLAs who resigned as legislators three weeks ago, bringing the coalition government to the brink of collapse. Shankar has resigned as a minister and pledged support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The speaker insisted that the disqualified lawmakers couldn’t contest election until the term of the current assembly – due to expire in 2023 – is over. But some constitutional experts said this part of the ruling may be challenged in court.
There are disqualification petitions against 14 more MLAs – 13 rebels and one Congress lawmaker who didn’t turn up for Tuesday’s trust vote –pending before Kumar.
The Congress welcomed the decision while the BJP, which has been in wait-and-watch mode since the coalition government collapsed on Tuesday, demanded that the speaker pronounce his ruling on the other rebels soon.
With this decision, the strength of the 225-member assembly comes down to 222. The BJP has 105 MLAs, still short of the new halfway mark of 112. In the trust vote on Tuesday, where 204 members had voted, the coalition got 99 votes and the BJP 105. Fifteen rebels, two independents, two Congress members and one Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) lawmaker skipped the vote.
In the case of Jarkiholi and Kumathahalli, who both resigned on July 6, Kumar said the MLAs were summoned thrice but failed to appear before the speaker.
“In the Jarkiholi and Kumathahalli’s case, I... rejected their resignations first as they were not voluntary and genuine. After that I considered their disqualification petition,” Kumar said. The petitions were pending against them since February for disobeying a party whip.
In the case of Shankar, Kumar said he received one petition from the Ranebennur MLA in June seeking to merge his one-man Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party with the Congress, and another to the same effect by former chief minister Siddaramaiah.
The merger was formalised on June 25, the speaker said, when he issued a direction to consider Shankar as a Congress MLA and allot him a seat among the Congress lawmakers.
Kumar said Shankar’s letter to governor Vajubhai Vala pledging “unequivocal support” to the BJP was considered while taking the decision. “Schedule X of the Constitution was introduced to check defections. I must also concede failure on my part because I couldn’t act fast. But this must be stopped and, in this regard, I have disqualified him till 2023, when the tenure of the house ends,” he said.
The speaker said disqualified members were ineligible to enter the House till its term ends or if it is dissolved and fresh elections called. “Several people are trying to give different interpretations to Article 164 (1B) of the Constitution, that they can contest re-election. No! Those who are disqualified cannot be allowed to enter the house till its term ends,” Kumar said.
The speaker said he would study the remaining complaints and may require a few more days to decide on them.
“My judgment must be based on sound logic and evidence. This is why I have held back on those,” he said. “It is their conduct, the incidents and historical precedents that will be looked into before I arrive at an answer.”
CT Ravi, state BJP general secretary, said the order gave rise to the suspicion that this was a way to threaten other MLAs. “It is curious that the speaker chose to act only against three MLAs, when the Supreme Court had asked him to decide on the resignations of the others,” he said.
Siddaramaiah hailed the verdict, claiming such strong decisions were necessary to protect democracy. In a tweet, Siddaramaiah said: “This decision will ring the alarm bell for those who disregard the people’s mandate for their greed.”
Constitutional expert and former Karnataka advocate general Raviverma Kumar said the speaker’s interpretation of the law was bound to be challenged. “Disqualification means giving up membership till a re-election. Article 164 (1B) states clearly that the disqualified member can get reelected to the same House in the subsequent by-election,” he said.
Former consultant to the Rajya Sabha, Sumit Kumar Ganguly, said, “In 2003, the 91st amendment to the Constitution provided for some consequences if a lawmaker is disqualified. The amendment inserted Article 361B that laid the ground for disqualification for appointment on remunerative political post.”
First Published: Jul 25, 2019 23:47 IST