Supreme Court orders BJP’s Yedurappa to face floor test in 24 hours; ruling on Governor’s decision later

The Karnataka legislative assembly will be convened at 11 am on Saturday for conducting the Supreme Court-mandated floor test that will decide fate of the BJP government led by BS Yeddyurappa
Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa talks to the media on Karnataka assembly election results in Bengaluru.(PTI File Photo)
Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa talks to the media on Karnataka assembly election results in Bengaluru.(PTI File Photo)
Updated on May 18, 2018 09:41 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByBhadra Sinha and Vikram Gopal

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to prove he enjoys majority support in the assembly on Saturday evening, shortening the 15-day window he had received from the state’s governor to face a floor test, as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rivals for power scampered to hold their flock together.

In a ruling that the Congress party termed “historic,” a special bench comprising justices AK Sikri, SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan directed the appointment of a protem speaker to oversee the floor test at 4 pm “as per the rules of the House”.

The Karnataka legislative assembly will be convened at 11 am on Saturday for conducting the Supreme Court-mandated floor test, according to a notification issued by governor Vajubhai Vala. He also appointed BJP leader and former speaker KG Bopaiah as the protem speaker, leading to protests by the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular).

The Supreme Court order came on a petition filed by the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) combine challenging governor Vajubhai Vala’s invitation to the BJP’s Yeddyurappa on Wednesday to form the government after the May 12 assembly election produced a hung House. The BJP has 104 seats in a house with an effective strength of 222. The Congress has 78 seats, JD(S) 37 and three seats went to others.

With Bopaiah becoming protem speaker, his vote will be counted only in the case of a tie, so the BJP has an effective strength of 103. To win the floor test, Yeddyurappa will need seven more votes. Governor Vala gave Yeddyurappa 15 days on Wednesday to face a floor test.

The Supreme Court bench remarked that going by the report on centre-state relations prepared in the 1980s by a Commission headed by R.S. Sarkaria, inviting the largest party to form government was not “illegal”. However, keeping the circumstances in mind, the court thought it fit to order the floor test “without any delay”.

The court directed the Director General of Police of Karnataka to ensure law and order and asked Yeddyurappa, who was sworn in on Thursday, not to take any policy decisions until the floor test is completed. The court also said no Anglo-Indian member would be nominated to the assembly until after the test.

“Anyway, he may not have the time for other major policy decisions. He will be busy with other things,” justice Sikri said, adding a touch of humour to the proceedings. The judge also referred to a joke circulating on WhatsApp about a resort owner claiming to have a majority to form the government in Karnataka -- a reference to the practice of political parties huddling their members in resorts to prevent poaching by rivals .

At the beginning of the hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Yeddyurappa, produced two letters, dated May 15 and 16. In one, Yeddyurappa said he had the numbers to form a government, but did not disclose the names of the other members supporting the BJP’s claim.

On the day, Yeddyurappa’s letter to the Governor, dated May 16, asking for the party to be invited to form the government was also circulated. In the letter, Yeddyurappa has claimed that he has the support of “others”.

“There is no requirement for us to declare names of those in these two parties {Congress and Janata Dal (Secular)} who support us,” argued Rohatgi. “There is an atmosphere of apprehension. MLAs have been taken to resorts...We fear they (MLAs) are not being allowed to vote according to their conscience.”

In one of the letters, Yeddyurappa wrote that he was confident that he would be able to prove “my majority on the floor of the house and provide a stable government.”

“I have the support of others and requisite majority. Hence, I humbly request your Excellency to invite me to form the government,” he wrote.

Also read: Live updates on developments in Karnataka

For the petitioners, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the question was whether it was fair on the part of the governor of Karnataka “to call someone with fewer numbers” to form a government. “Look at the intent (of the governor) to give 15 days after inviting A for B or B for C,” said Singhvi.

Rohatgi raised doubts about the letter that Congress had submitted to the Governor, claiming to have the numbers to form a government. He said it hadn’t been signed by all those whose support the Congress-JD(S) combine claims to have. Singhvi rebutted this.

Attorney General K K Venugopal’s request to consider a secret ballot was rejected. Venugopal was representing the Centre . All members of the legislative assembly must take the oath before 4 pm, the court said.

Rohatgi agreed to the floor test but questioned the urgency. “Why have it tomorrow? Why not on Monday? I have to get my flock together and also Congress-JD-S MLAs are not there. Even they need time to come,” Rohatgi told the court.

But the judges were in no mood to delay the floor test. “Whoever is called, whichever party, final decision may be taken on the floor of the House,” said Justice Bobde. Justice Sikri added, “We will not compromise on this.”

Describing the present scenario as “a number game”, Justice Sikri said, “The situation is, on one hand, that there is a party which has given names and other simply claims it has support. How do we decide? Sarkaria says largest party (be invited to form the government).”

Sikri ranked pre- and post-poll alliances in terms of their relative legitimacy. “If there is a pre-poll alliance, it is highest. Rationale being that voters know. So as far as post-poll alliances are concerned, it is kept below largest party because voters didn’t know they would come together,” said Justice Sikri. He reiterated that a majority must be proven on the floor of the House.

The court also issued formal notices to Yeddyurappa and the Centre on the petition and said the larger legal issue raised over a governor’s discretionary power would be taken up after 10 weeks.

“It is a historic interim order by the apex court of the country. It is historic because directly, with this degree of specificity it is raised for the first time, the extent of rights and discretion of the Governor to call ‘A’ or ‘B’ for government formation immediately after the elections,” lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters.

Also read: Karnataka pro-tem speaker KG Bopaiah helped Yeddyurappa in past trust vote

Singhvi said another aspect of the BJP’s “frustration” was the Attorney General pushing for a secret ballots “on the instructions” of the Centre. “As you know, secret ballot has never ever been used for a confidence vote. But more importantly who will ask for a secret ballot? Why?”

“What the BJP has done is not the right thing, by asking a person who is not the senior-most MLA to be pro-tem speaker,” Singhvi said at a press conference in Delhi.

BJP leader Prakash Javadekar defended the choice. “KG Bopaiah was appointed as pro-tem speaker even in 2008 by the then governor. That time Bopaiah was 10 years younger than he is today. Congress is thus raising a hoax objection. The appointment of Bopaiah ji is as per rules and regulations.”

“BJP is ready and confident of winning trust vote in Karnataka. We will prove our majority on the floor of the House,” Javadekar said.

Meanwhile, newly-elected legislators of the Congress and JD (S) , camping at different locations in Hyderabad since Friday morning, are expected to return to Bengaluru late in the night or early Saturday to take part in the floor test

The legislators, who arrived in Hyderabad from Bengaluru in three buses belonging to SRS Travels and Orange Travels, are likely to take special flights to Bengaluru.

JD(S) legislator GT Deve Gowda told reporters that all the MLAs of his party and the Congress were united and would not succumb to any pressures from the BJP. “Let them offer Rs 100 crore or Rs 200 crore each. But we are all united. None of us is ready to take the bait. We are leaving for Bengaluru today evening or tomorrow morning,” he said.

The legislators were brought to two hotels in the upscale Banjara Hills and Madhapur areas of the Telangana capital. “We have used six buses while MLAs were occupying only three. Remaining are decoys,” a senior Telangana Congress leader said.

(With inputs from HT correspondents in New Delhi)

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