In a setback to BJP MLC A H Vishwanath’s hopes of being inducted into the B S Yediyurappa Cabinet, the Karnataka High Court on Monday ruled that he was ineligible to be minister on account of his disqualification as an MLA in 2019 under the anti-defection law.
Vishwanath, 70, was among 17 Congress and JDS MLAs who defected to the BJP in July 2019 to topple the Congress-JDS coalition government and bring the Yediyurappa-led BJP government to power. Vishwanath, who lost the Assembly by-election he contested on a BJP ticket in December 2019, was nominated as an MLC by Chief Minister Yediyurappa to fulfill a promise of providing ministerial posts to all defectors who helped the BJP form the government.
The attempt to appoint Vishwanath and two other defectors, M T B Nagaraj and R Shankar, as ministers by making them MLCs — after they failed to get re-elected to the state Assembly — was challenged in three separate petitions filed in the High Court.
Petitioner A S Harisha argued that Vishwanath, Nagaraj and Shankar, all MLCs, are ineligible to be ministers unless elected again into the legislature since they were disqualified as MLAs by the Speaker – an order upheld by the Supreme Court.
On Monday, a division bench of the High Court ruled that since Vishwanath was disqualified from the legislature in 2019, he “attracts disqualification under Article 164 (1) (b) and Article 361 (B)” of the Constitution of India until he is re-elected to the legislature.
However, in the case of the other two MLCs aspiring to be ministers — Nagaraj and Shankar – the High Court bench of Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty said that despite being disqualified as MLAs under the anti-defection law, the two were elected to the legislative council unlike Vishwanath who was nominated.
The High Court has observed that the appointment of ministers is done by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister in accordance with Article 164(1) of the Constitution of India.
Article 164(1) says that “a member of the Legislative Assembly of a State or either House of the Legislature of a State having Legislative Council belonging to any political party who is disqualified for being a member of that House… shall also be disqualified to be appointed as a Minister… for duration of the period commencing from the date of his disqualification till the date on which the term of his office as such member would expire or where he contests any election to the Legislative Assembly of a State or either House of the Legislature of a State having Legislative Council, as the case may be, before the expiry of such period, till the date on which he is declared elected, whichever is earlier.”
The High Court decision is likely to be a bit of a breather for Yediyurappa who is under pressure to fulfil his promise to accommodate all the defectors — who helped the BJP come to power — in the state Cabinet.
Yediyurappa’s move to provide ministerial posts to the new entrants has been a source of major division in the Karnataka unit of the BJP.
Yediyurappa is looking to expand his 27-member Cabinet to its full strength of 34 ministers and there is intense competition for the seven openings. Even as several senior BJP legislators are lobbying to be accommodated in the Cabinet, Yediyurappa, who has inducted as many as 11 rebels in the Cabinet after they won bypolls in 2019, is keen on giving ministerial berths to the three rebels
Yediyurappa said on Monday that a Cabinet expansion would be carried out in two to three days. The Karnataka CM travelled to Delhi in the second week of November in the hope of obtaining a clearance for his Cabinet expansion but the BJP leadership turned him down.
Amid speculation that the BJP central leadership is keen on replacing him, Yediyurappa has over the last week attempted to assert himself by taking unilateral decisions such as seeking a Cabinet nod for the inclusion of his own Lingayat community in the OBC category for central job quotas. The move was dropped after Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Yediyurappa last week.