In row over rebel Karnataka MLAs at SC, it is Speaker vs ex-Speaker
Karnataka Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that every legislator has the right to resign his seat. Hegde, who was elevated as speaker soon after the BS Yediyurappa government won its trust vote, said a legislator owed a duty and loyalty to the electorate who voted the MLA rather than a political party.
Vishweshwar Hegde’s stand, articulated in the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who is representing the assembly speaker, contradicts his predecessor KR Ramesh who had disqualified rebel Congress and Janata Dal Secular lawmakers. These rebel legislators had stayed away from the trust vote in Karnataka assembly that HD Kumaraswamy eventually lost and Yediyurappa became Chief Minister.
Tushar Mehta assailed his predecessor’s decision to disqualify the rebel legislators and barring them from contesting the elections again. The Election Commission has already told the top court’s Justice NV Ramana that the assembly speaker did not have the authority to prohibit a legislator from contesting elections.
The court is hearing the disqualified MLAs’ petition challenging the Speaker’s decision to disqualify them as members of the House instead of giving a final verdict on their resignations.
The former lawmakers have also sought a stay on the proposed by polls on the seats that fell vacant subsequent to the disqualifications.
The resignation of the 17 MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) parties had brought down the HD Kumaraswamy-led government in Karnataka in July this year.
They were thereafter disqualified on grounds of defection by former Speaker KR Ramesh.
Mehta argued that an elected legislator cannot be bound merely by a party which he cannot comply 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. He stressed that the right to dissent is an essential feature of Parliamentary democracy that cannot be curtailed by issuance of party whip.
Mehta said none of the 17 members had defected to another party but had chosen to resign his membership from the Assembly.
“The right to resign is a right recognized by the Constitution,” Mehta said, underscoring that a legislator owes his “loyalty to the voters” who has elected him from a particular seat.
Legislators are bound by party discipline but the same cannot denude them of the power to resign as an assembly member.
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.
The Solicitor General said 10th schedule does not envisage a situation where a legislator can be disqualified for resigning his membership.
Earlier, senior advocate CA Sundaram, appearing for few petitioners, termed the speaker’s decision as unconstitutional. “It is not a sin to join any other political party, the 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.