The Congress-JDS government in Karnataka is hanging by a thread on Wednesday ahead of the floor test on today with the rebel MLAs refusing to yield after the Supreme Court held they cannot be compelled to attend the assembly session to decide the ruling coalition’s fate.
As the coalition with truncated strength struggled to shore up its numbers amid fading hopes, the Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that the 15 rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs “ought not” to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session of the state Assembly.
The court verdict was interpreted in political circles as a relief for the rebel lawmakers, as it categorically said an option should be given to them as to whether they wanted to take part or stay out of the assembly proceedings.
The ruling coalition had held out the threat of using the Whip against the wayward MLAs, citing the disqualification provision under the anti-defection law.
Armed with the court order, the rebel Congress-JDS MLAs camping in Mumbai said there was no question of stepping back on their resignations or attending the session.
As the spotlight turned on the Supreme Court, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the Speaker was free to decide on the resignations of the rebel MLAs within the time-frame decided by him.
The apex court was hearing the plea of 15 rebel MLAs of Congress and JD(S), seeking a direction to the Speaker to accept their resignations from the Assembly.
Karnataka Assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar welcomed the Supreme Court decision, giving him freedom to decide on the resignations of rebel MLAs, and said he would conduct himself responsibly in accordance with the principles of the Constitution.
The Speaker has, however, not given any indications about the time frame within which he would decide on the resignations.
As many as 16 MLAs — 13 from the Congress and three from JD(S) — have resigned, while independent MLAs R Shankar and H Nagesh have withdrawn their support to the coalition government, putting the coalition government in jitters.
Meanwhile Congress has pressed for disqualification of 13 MLAs, including independent R Shankar, who had merged his Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party with it.
The other Congress MLAs include Pratap Gowda Patil, B C Patil, Shivram Hebbar, S T Somashekar, Byrati Basavaraj, Anand Singh, Roshan Baig, Munirathna, K Sudhakar and MTB Nagaraj.
Disqualification petition had been moved against Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumatalli earlier itself.
The ruling coalition’s strength in the House is 117–Congress 78, JD(S) 37, BSP 1, and nominated 1, besides the speaker.
With the support of the two independents, the opposition BJP has 107 MLAs in the 225-member House, including the nominated MLA and Speaker.
If the resignations of the 16 MLAs are accepted, the ruling coalition’s tally will plummet to 101, reducing the 13 month-old Kumaraswamy government to a minority.
Congress’ pointsman and minister D K Shivakumar maintained that the party can issue a whip to ensure the presence of all the party MLAs in the House and take necessary action against them for any violation.
He accused some BJP leaders of trying to misguide that the whip is not valid.
Happy with the verdict, Karnataka BJP president B S Yeddyurappa said it was a “moral victory” for the rebel MLAs.
“I welcome the Supreme Court decision. It is a victory of the Constitution and democracy. It is a moral victory for rebel MLAs,” he said.
But the Congress in Karnataka slammed the Supreme Court order as a “bad judgment”, which seemed to protect the defectors and encourage horse-trading.
A joint delegation of the coalition,including Kumaraswamy and Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah met the Speaker and told him the Supreme Court had restricted their right to issue a whip, but “we have the right to impose a whip.”
Speaking to reporters after the meeting with the Speaker, senior minister Krishna Byregowda said the apex court had stated that attending or not attending the session was left to the MLAs, but the assembly rules state that the legislators had to seek permission for their absence.
“We have asked the Speaker if this relaxation has been granted,” he said.
Kumaraswamy, who served as Chief Minister for 20 months in 2006-07 at the head of a JD(S)-BJP government, became the chief minister for a second term in May last year.
The 59-year old son of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda managed to be back at the helm with the support of the Congress after the May 2018 assembly polls threw up a fractured mandate, with BJP emerging as the single largest party, but falling short of numbers to be in power.
The current political turbulence was triggered a fortnight ago, with a raft of resignations by rebel lawmakers, unhappy with the coalition for a variety of reasons, from not getting ministerial berths to “dominance” of the Deve Gowda family.
A humiliating defeat for the ruling coalition in the Lok Sabha polls that saw them win only two of the 28 seats in Karnataka, with BJP walking away with 25 and an independent backed by it with one, only exacerbated simmering tensions.