The Supreme Court Wednesday decided to uphold the disqualification of 17 MLAs of Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) in Karnataka but struck down a portion of the then Speaker K R Ramesh’s order that barred them from contesting elections during the tenure of the current Assembly, which is until 2023. The court also said that under existing Constitutional mandate, Speaker not empowered to disqualify any member till the end of the term.
With the SC ruling, the disqualified MLAs can now contest the forthcoming bypolls, which is scheduled to be held on December 5.
A three-judge bench of Justices N V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari said if elected in bypolls, these disqualified MLAs can become ministers or hold public office.
However, the court said that they “do not appreciate the manner in which the petitioners came to the court.” The court added that its verdict is based on facts and circumstance of the case and that it does not interfere with Speaker’s power to disqualify members.
Welcoming the court’s judgment, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said, “Tomorrow onwards we are going to go to all assembly constituencies. We are going to win all the 17 seats 101%.” On being asked if the disqualified MLAs will be fielded on BJP tickets, the CM said, “I will discuss with them, I will discuss with the national leadership also. We will take an appropriate decision in the evening.”
Karnataka Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao said the saffron party should deny tickets to the 17 MLAs if it “has any morality left”
Former Karnataka Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar expressed “sigh of relief” as the SC order came out. “On the issue of tenure (of disqualification), Supreme Court has not agreed to my interpretation I will speak on that after going through the text of the judgement,” Kumar said.
In July, 14 rebel MLAs of the Congress and three of the JDS were disqualified under the anti-defection law by the Speaker. The judgment will likely have a bearing on the bypolls for 15 of the 17 vacant assembly seats and the current BJP government in Karnataka.
The resignations of MLAs in July were seen as linked to a BJP attempt to topple the government. As they stayed away from the Assembly, the Congress-JD-S government collapsed during a trust vote on July 23, paving the way for the BJP to stake claim to form a new government under Yediyurappa on July 26.
The then Speaker Ramesh Kumar had issued two separate orders under the anti-defection law, disqualifying the 17 MLAs from the House and barring them from contesting elections during the tenure of the current Assembly. The MLAs had subsequently moved the apex court asking that the Speaker’s orders be quashed. The Congress and JD-S too approached the court, seeking enforcement of the disqualifications.
Elections will not take place at two out of the 17 vacant seats — Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Maski — where separate election petitions challenging the results of the 2018 elections are pending in Karnataka High Court.
The BJP currently has the support of 106 MLAs in the 224-member assembly including one independent. The opposition Congress-JDS has 101. The BJP will have to win a minimum six out of 15 seats, and seven out of 17 to keep its majority. (It will, however, still be dependent on the support of the Independent — and would like to win at least one extra seat in both situations for a clear majority of its own.)
The disqualified MLAs are: Pratap Gowda Patil, BC Patil, Shivram Hebbar, ST Somashekar, Byrati Basavaraj, Anand Singh, R Roshan Baig, N Munirathna, K Sudhakar and MTB Nagaraj, Shrimant Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumatalli and R Shankar (all Congress). JD(S) members who faced action are K Gopalaiah, AH Vishwanath and KC Narayana Gowda.