AFTER AT least five failed attempts over the last 14 months to topple the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka, the Opposition BJP finally tasted success Tuesday by defeating a confidence motion moved by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy by six votes in a House where 20 coalition MLAs remained absent.
Amid delaying tactics by the coalition to lure back its 15 MLAs who had resigned since July 6, the BJP, which had waited four days for Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar to put the confidence motion to vote, registered 105 votes to the coalition’s 99.
While all BJP MLAs were present for the trust vote, the coalition had 17 MLAs missing, apart from a BSP MLA and two Independents who were earlier allied with the government. The half-way mark in the 224-member Assembly is 113 but with its strength reduced by the absence of 20 coalition MLAs, the BJP won a simple majority. “This is a victory for democracy. The 14-month-old government of Kumaraswamy had become a source of frustration for the people. In the coming days, the state is going to witness a wave of new development,’’ Chief Minister candidate and state BJP chief B S Yeddyurappa, 76, who masterminded attempts to topple the coalition, said.
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The BJP is expected to move swiftly for the constitution of a new government under Yeddyurappa since the finance Bill has to be passed before July 31 to facilitate payments, including salaries. “The government formation has to be done fast since the Budget passed in February was a vote-on-account one…the full Budget must be passed to ensure the government does not default on payments,’’ BJP leader J C Madhuswamy said.
When they formed the government in 2018, the Congress and JD(S) had praised each other’s political acumen for swiftly cobbling together a coalition despite the BJP emerging as the single largest party in the Assembly polls.
For the BJP, the result is a shot in the arm at the national level, too, ahead of a clutch of Assembly elections. The manner in which the party leveraged coalition divisions in Karnataka may also set off alarm bells in Madhya Pradesh, where another Congress-led alliance is in place with a thin majority.
When he is called to form the government, Yeddyurappa will get a chance to become Chief Minister for the fourth time although his tenures in 2007 was for only a week and in 2018 for two days. He had a three-year stint between 2008 and 2011 as the first full-time BJP Chief Minister of a south Indian state.
In his final speech as Chief Minister, JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy highlighted the achievements of his government, including a Rs 44,000-crore loan waiver scheme. “I am not scared of the division of votes and will not run away. Let it be known why the government is being toppled,” he said.
“The BJP directly influenced all MLAs who were absent today except one MLA Nagendra who obtained permission. They have been prevented from coming to the House. This is a betrayal of democracy. They have misled the MLAs on the anti-defection law and lured them through horse trading,” Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah alleged.
Despite buying time of over five days, amid deadlines given by the Governor to complete the trust vote, the coalition could not lure back the rebels — 13 from the Congress and three from JD(S) — who left the flock since July 6, triggering the latest crisis after the BJP won 25 of 28 seats in Lok Sabha elections.
It was only able to convince one MLA — Congress leader Ramalinga Reddy — to withdraw his resignation, and prevent two Independent legislators, H Nagesh and R Shankar, from going to the Assembly for the trust vote Tuesday.
The Congress and JD(S) have initiated disqualification proceedings through the Speaker under the anti-defection law against the rebels. During the trust vote, Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah stated that their parties would not take them back even if they returned now. “All those who ditched the party and went away will not be taken back,’’ Siddaramaiah said.
The first disqualification plea was filed by the coalition against 10 rebels on July 10 over their alleged association with the BJP and “anti-party activities”. Subsequently, additional pleas were made against a total of 16 MLAs. These were heard by the Speaker Tuesday, with the rebels being represented by former advocate general Ashok Haranahalli and the coalition by former MP V S Ugrappa. The Speaker did not arrive at a decision.
The coalition has claimed that the disqualification process precedes the resignations of most of the MLAs and should be taken up first while the rebels have argued otherwise.
The Congress and JD(S) are now likely to move a fresh complaint for disqualification. “We issued a whip to all who abstained from the trust vote. By abstaining, they will attract provisions of the anti-defection law or the tenth schedule of the Constitution. Even abstaining is a violation of the whip,” Siddaramaiah said.
If disqualified, the MLAs will not be able to hold any Constitutional position, including that of a minister, during the term of this Assembly. If their resignations are accepted, they would have to contest fresh elections to return to the House.
Much would depend on the Speaker who indicated Tuesday that he was carrying his own resignation in his pocket. “I do not know if I will be Speaker or not,” Ramesh Kumar said. The new BJP government would have to issue a 14-day notice for a no-confidence motion against the Speaker in order to replace him with their technical majority.
During the trust vote discussions, Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah warned the BJP that it would not be able to survive given the conditions under which it would come to power. “You will not be able to run a government created through defections. In the history of India, few governments formed by splitting parties have survived for long,’’ Siddaramaiah said.