As the Supreme Court directed Karnataka Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar not to take any decision on the disqualification or resignation of 10 rebel Congress-JD(S) coalition MLAs until July 16, more political uncertainty loomed in the state Friday with Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy announcing that he will seek a trust vote in the Assembly.
In a move intended to counter the rebellion in the coalition ranks, Kumaraswamy diverged briefly from a condolence message he was delivering at the start of the state monsoon session and told the Speaker: “It would not be appropriate for me to continue without proving my majority. I am not someone who would like to hang on to my seat if there is lack of confidence in my government.”
Kumaraswamy later met the Speaker at a business advisory council meeting and asked him to schedule a confidence motion for Wednesday, July 16, the day after the hearing in the SC.
Earlier, directing the Speaker to maintain status quo, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi observed that there were several “weighty” Constitutional issues to be decided. The question of maintainability of the petitions and whether one Constitutional authority can issue directions to another will also have to be looked into, said the bench also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose.
Rebel MLAs face two choices: letters accepted or disqualified
If the Speaker accepts the resignations of the rebel MLAs, they can contest elections on any party ticket. They can also be inducted as ministers, but have to get elected within six months. If their resignations are not accepted and the House votes on the trust motion, the MLAs will be given a whip from their parties. If they violate the whip, their parties can approach the Speaker to disqualify them. An MLA disqualified under the Tenth Schedule cannot be inducted as a minister or appointed to a remunerative post until re-elected.
16 Congress and JD(S) MLAs have quit in all since July 1, the Speaker had rejected the resignations of 10 MLAs on the ground that they were not in the correct format. The 10 rebels had moved the Supreme Court against the Speaker’s decision to reject their resignations.
If the 16 resignations are accepted, the coalition’s numbers in the 224-member House will fall to 101 compared to the BJP’s 105 MLAs and the support of two Independents. The BJP can win a confidence vote if at least 11 resignations are accepted.
The Congress-JD(S) coalition, however, hopes to wean back at least six rebel MLAs, prevent more exits and get a few BJP MLAs to stay away from the House for the trust vote to prove its majority, said JD(S) sources. Kumaraswamy expressed confidence that he would win the trust vote.
Of the 16 MLAs, 14 are being contacted to return to the coalition fold and two MLAs, Ramesh Jharkiholi of the Congress and H Vishwanath of the JD(S), are not being approached since they are intent on joining the BJP, said sources.
Four MLAs from Bengaluru and two Congress veterans R Ramalinga Reddy and R Roshan Baig – who has been summoned by police in a probe into a multi-crore ponzi scheme scam – have signalled their interest to return following discussions with Kumaraswamy, said sources. The duo did not approach the SC with the other rebels.
Indicating its lack of enthusiasm for the trust vote, the BJP stayed away from the business advisory council to fix the date for the vote. “We will wait for the directions of the Supreme Court on Tuesday,’’ said BJP state chief B S Yeddyurappa. Incidentally, the JD(S) and BJP moved its MLAs to resorts outside Bangalore Friday evening as part of an exercise to protect their MLAs.
Meanwhile, a meeting between a JD(S) minister, who is a close aide of Kumaraswamy, and BJP leaders, including general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, Thursday night triggered speculation of the JD(S) exploring the possibility of helping the BJP form government in Karnataka.
Kumaraswamy, however, claimed it was a casual meeting and should not be misconstrued. “It is unnecessary to give importance to Tourism Minister Sa Ra Mahesh’s casual meeting with BJP leaders at the new building of KK guest house managed by Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation which is under his portfolio,” he said.
“There is no truth in any kind of discussion with a JD(S) minister. In a public place, it was a mere coincidence,’’ said Muralidhar Rao.
Appearing for the 10 rebel MLAs in the SC, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said the decision on resignations has nothing to do with the Speaker’s powers inside the House. “They have been giving resignations from July 1. Disqualification proceedings against two MLAs had been initiated in February this year and later adjourned. The proceedings against the others were initiated post their resignation,” he said, adding that a whip has been issued asking all MLAs to be present and vote in a particular way for the Budget.
He claimed that the object was to keep resignations pending and then disqualify them so that their resignations become infructuous. He said if the Speaker should be given more time, if necessary until Monday, to decide on the resignations but added there should not be any disqualification also until that time. “If he doesn’t want to decide at all, contempt should be issued,” he argued.
Defending the Speaker’s action, Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the requirement for an enquiry under the to proviso Article 190 was introduced by way of the 33rd Constitutional amendment in May 1974.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons underlying the amendment makes it clear that the object was “that the resignation shall not be accepted by the Speaker or the Chairman if he was satisfied after making such inquiry as he thought fit that the resignation was not voluntary or genuine,” Singhvi submitted.
To this, the CJI said “is the Speaker challenging the authority of the Supreme Court to issue directions?”. “No” replied Singhvi, adding that he was only trying to say that the question of disqualifications needed to be decided before the resignations could be considered.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan appearing for Kumaraswamy termed it an “overtly political petition” and said all that the MLAs had stated in it was about the alleged failures of the government.
“Your lordships are asked to enter the political thicket on the ground that because this government has already failed, please help us in failing it further,” said Dhavan. “There is a mandate on which these people were elected. Now they want to defeat that mandate.”