Allow us to contest or defer by-elections: K’taka MLAs to SC
The Election Commision’s counsel said the body has no view on the disqualifications but that the polls should not be deferred.Updated: Sep 25, 2019, 23:51 IST
The 17 lawmakers disqualified by the former speaker of the Karnataka assembly should be allowed to context the by-elections in the state -- the last date for filing nominations is Monday -- or the by-polls themselves should be deferred till the court rules on the case, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for some of the MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The Election Commision’s counsel said the body has no view on the disqualifications but that the polls should not be deferred.
The new Karnataka Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde came out in support of the disqualified MLAs of Congress Party as he assailed his predecessor’s decision to disqualify and prohibit the former legislators from contesting elections.
Appearing before a bench led by Justice NV Ramana, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta submitted that a legislator has a right to resign from the membership of assembly as he essentially owes a duty and loyalty to the electorate who voted him to power rather than the political party.
Mehta is appearing for the incumbent Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly Hegde.
The court is hearing the disqualified MLAs’ petition questioning the speaker’s decision to disqualify them as members of the house instead of giving a final verdict on their resignations.
The resignation of the 17 MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) parties brought down the HD Kumaraswamy-led government in Karnataka in July this year.
They were thereafter disqualified on grounds of defection by former the Speaker, KR Ramesh.
Mehta argued that an elected legislator cannot be bound merely by a party decision with which he cannot comply if it meant going against his conscience.
“If a political party takes a decision that a particular part of the State would be bifurcated…but my duty is towards my electorate. Am I blindfolded because of a whip?” Mehta argued and stressed that right to dissent is an essential feature of parliamentary democracy that cannot be curtailed by issuance of party whip. He said none of the 17 members defected to another party but chose to resign their membership from the Assembly.
“Right to resign is a right recognized by the Constitution,” Mehta said .
The law officer asked the court to frame guidelines for the speaker to decide on disqualification petitions and resignations. But the bench wondered if it can accept Mehta’s suggestion. “A speaker is a constitutional authority. How can we lay down guidelines,” the judges said.
Earlier, senior advocate CA Sundaram, appearing for some of the lawmakers termed the speaker’s decision as unconstitutional. “It’s not a sin to join any other political party, sin is to join a party while you are a sitting MLA,” he told the bench.
The Speaker’s decision was malafide and he invoked the provisions under the tenth schedule wrongly to disqualify the lawmakers. Sundaram said his clients never defected to another party but had simply resigned because they lost faith in the government. “A speaker is the master of the house and not a president of the party,” he contended.
R Shankar, one of 17 MLAs who were disqualified by the former Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar, argued that his party never formally merged with the Congress.
Shankar, who won on the ticket of the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party in 2018, submitted his resignation to Governor Vajubhai Vala in the days before the collapse of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government.
Shankar had agreed to merge his party with the Congress on being made a minister. He was inducted into the Cabinet of former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy in June. He was disqualified by the Speaker in July, saying that he had merged his party with the Congress.
On Wednesday, advocate V Giri, who appeared for Shankar, said the KPJP had not been merged with the Congress. He said no resolution had been sent to the Speaker regarding merging the party with the Congress.
Hence, Giri said, the whip of the Congress party did not apply to Shankar.