Karnataka political crisis: Supreme Court orders status quo on Karnataka rebel MLAs issue

Karnataka political crisis: 10 rebel MLAs have approached the Supreme Court, seeking direction to the Karnataka speaker KR Ramesh Kumar to accept their resignations.
Karnataka political crisis: chief minister HD Kumaraswamy during the Assembly Session, at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru, Friday, July 12, 2019.(PTI photo)
Karnataka political crisis: chief minister HD Kumaraswamy during the Assembly Session, at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru, Friday, July 12, 2019.(PTI photo)
Updated on Jul 12, 2019 10:51 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai | ByHT Correspondent

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered Karnataka assembly speaker KR Ramesh Kumar not to act on resignations by rebel lawmakers from the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition until July 16, even as a defiant chief minister HD Kumaraswamy said he would seek a trust vote on the floor of the House in the face of the crisis confronting his 15-month-old government.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said it had to first consider some “weighty issues” that have arisen relating to constitutional provisions, including the kind of directions that a constitutional court can issue to a constitutional authority, in this case the speaker.

Ten rebel MLAs have approached the Supreme Court, seeking a direction to the Karnataka speaker to accept the resignations they have submitted to him. In all, 16 MLAs -- 13 from the Congress and three from JD(S) -- have quit since July 7, pushing the coalition government to the brink of collapse. Two independent MLAs have also withdrawn support to the government.

The defections will trigger a legal clause that disqualifies these MLAs, bringing the 224-member assembly’s strength down to 208 and giving the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a majority in the House. Barring the rebels, the ruling coalition has a strength of 101, including the speaker, who cannot vote unless there is a tie.

Also read | Karnataka political crisis: Preps for trust vote, parties pack off their MLAs to resorts

Judges Gogoi, Gupta and Bose said in their order that the speaker should not decide on the resignations or disqualification of the rebel MLAs to enable the court to assess the larger issues that the case had given rise to.

Kumaraswamy has raised the issue of maintainability of the rebels’ petition under Article 32, which allows an individual to move the judiciary for protection of his fundamental rights, the court noted. In the assembly in Bengaluru, he said he was seeking a confidence motion in light of the “difficult situation” created by some MLAs.

“I have not come here to sit in power forever. I am ready for everything. I appeal to you, in my opinion, in light of the developments I have decided to call for a trust vote and I am asking you to grant me time,” he appealed to the speaker.

In the Supreme Court, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the rebel MLAs, countered the speaker’s submission that a disqualification plea against the rebels by the ruling coalition had to be decided on before the resignations of the lawmakers are taken up.

Ramesh Kumar has alleged that the legislators resigned to avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law, which requires that at least two-thirds of a party must break away to be recognised as a separate group .

“In view of the weighty issues that have arisen, we are of the view that the matter be considered by us on Tuesday. We are of the view that the status quo as of today with regard to the prevailing situation be maintained. Neither the issue of resignation nor that of disqualification be decided till Tuesday,” the bench ruled.

The Congress and JD(S) stitched together their alliance in May 2018 to stymie a bid by the BJP for power after assembly elections gave the latter the most seats in the House, but without a majority on its own. Since then, the coalition has been periodically roiled by dissent and rebellion, which this time around followed the BJP’s landslide win in the April-May Lok Sabha elections. The coalition partners have accused the BJP of engineering the rebellion, a claim denied by the party.

Lawyer Rohatgi said the speaker has not decided on the resignations of the lawmakers to keep the issue hanging, and in order to bind them to party whips.

Both the Congress and JD(S) have issued whips to all their legislators to be present in the assembly for passing the state budget and participate in the discussions on other subjects until the 10-day session that commenced on Friday ends on February 24. Until their resignations are accepted, the 16 legislators will be bound by the whip.If they defy the whip, they risk disciplinary action, including disqualification, which will bar them from re-election for the remaining term of the assembly. And if the resignations are accepted, the ruling coalition would be reduced to a minority.

Speaker Ramesh Kumar, who refused on Wednesday to decide on the resignations by rebel legislators as directed by the Supreme Court, told the bench on Friday through his counsel that he was constitutionally bound to decide on the disqualification petitions before he takes a call on the resignation letters. He also alleged that the legislators resigned to avoid disqualification.

“Two of the 10 MLAs resigned after disqualification proceedings commenced… Eight sent resignations before disqualification proceedings but did not appear in person with resignation letters,” Abhishek Singhvi, who is representing the Karnataka speaker, argued.

The bench asked if the speaker had the power to challenge the Supreme Court’s order, Singhvi replied: “Speaker is a very senior member of the assembly and he knows the constitutional law.”

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the chief minister, said the apex court had passed an ex-parte order without issuing a notice to the speaker.

Also read | ‘I will think all night’: Speaker keeps the suspense on rebel MLAs resignations

As the House convened in Bengaluru after the Supreme Court hearing, Kumaraswamy said he would seek a trust vote and asked the speaker to fix the time for it.

Former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, who is also the BJP state president, rushed out of the House and held long meetings with his party colleagues in his chamber in the Vidhana Soudha.

Later in the day, Yeddyurappa said the apex court’s direction had given strength to the rebels. “The MLAs in Mumbai have contacted our friends and they are happy about this. Let’s wait for Tuesday’s order,” Yeddyurappa said, acknowledging for the first time that the rebels were in touch with the BJP.

The BJP, meanwhile, decided to move its own MLAs to a resort in the city. Explaining the move, Yeddyurappa said, “Yes, we have decided to go to a resort because everybody wanted to be together, I asked them to go ahead,” he said.

BJP leader and former deputy chief minister KS Eshwarappa questioned the timing of Kumaraswamy’s offer to face a floor test, noting that Friday’s session was only meant to condole the passing of former legislators.

“The chief minister should have spoken paying condolences to the departed souls. He has to think how justified is it to seek a trust vote in the middle of paying tributes,” Eshwarappa said.

The first day of the session was adjourned without transaction of any business after Kumaraswamy’s statement and obituary references.

“The chief minister has spoken his mind that he would not cling to power amid the confusion. He said he will seek the trust of the House,” the speaker told reporters in Bengaluru. “Whenever he tells me that he wants to move the trust motion, the very next day I will put it in the business of the day.”

In a tweet late Thursday night, Kumaraswarmy wrote: “Congress-JDS coalition in the state is going strong despite the efforts to destabilise {it}. We are confident and prepared for a smooth and fruitful conduct of legislative sessions.”

Meanwhile, one of the rebel Congress MLAs, BC Patil, who is in Mumbai, said there is no going back and the breakaway group will abide by the orders of the Supreme Court.

“We will abide by the Supreme Court order. Our decision is final. There is no going back,” said Patil.

The rebels have been staying in resorts in Bengaluru and Mumbai, seeking to avoid their party bosses, after submitting letters demitting their membership of the assembly.

Amid the continuing political turmoil in Karnataka, four of the 14 rebel MLAs from the state who are camping in Mumbai on Friday visited the city’s famous Siddhivinayak temple. The four legislators, Byrathi Basavraj, ST Somashekar, Shivaram Hebbar and BC Patil, offered prayers to Lord Ganesha, the god of good luck and beginnings.

Opinion | In Karnataka, it is now advantage BJP

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