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The case of the disappearing numbers: A look at recent floor tests

The crisis that brought down the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government has several parallels — from hung Houses to new alliances, to petitions in the Supreme Court.

The H D Kumaraswamy-led government in Karnataka fell following a floor test in 2019. Goa CM Pramod Sawant (centre) also took a floor test after sitting CM Manohar Parrikar’s death. Former Gujarat CM Keshubhai Patel was also a victim of a coup in 1995 and was ousted from power. (File Photos)

Uddhav Thackeray resigned as Chief Minister of Maharashtra Wednesday, after the Supreme Court did not stay the Assembly floor test scheduled for June 30 called by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, and he faced the prospect of 40-odd of 55 Shiv Sena MLAs with the Eknath Shinde camp. The Sena’s petition seeking disqualification of 16 of the rebel MLAs remains pending.

Maharashtra Political Crisis |Follow Live Updates

The crisis that brought down the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government has several parallels – from hung Houses to new alliances, to petitions in the Supreme Court:

Karnataka

July 2019

The 2018 state elections threw up a hung Assembly, with the BJP winning 104 seats, the Congress 80, the JD(S) 37, along with three Independents, in the 224-member House. With the BJP failing to reach the majority mark of 113, forcing BJP leader B S Yediyurappa to step down as Chief Minister within three days, the Congress and JD(S) forged an alliance with the JD(S)’s H D Kumaraswamy as CM.

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In July 2019, the coalition government hit shaky ground when 17 MLAs (14 from the Congress and three from the JD-S) sought to quit the Assembly, citing differences with the government and CM. The Speaker, K R Ramesh Kumar, elected on the Congress ticket, refused to accept their resignation. With the BJP seen as behind the move, the Congress and JD(S) approached the Speaker seeking that the 17 be disqualified and not allowed to contest the election during the tenure of the then Assembly.

The Governor asked the Kumaraswamy government to take a floor test twice, and finally on July 23, 2019, the Congress-JD(S) Ministry fell. The Speaker went on to disqualify the MLAs, which remained away from the Congress-JD(S) reach and sequestered in hotels, and Yediyurappa returned as CM after winning a floor test in the truncated-House of 208. The BJP was able to muster support of 105 MLAs, against the Congress and JD(S)’s combined total of 99.

In November 2019, on the plea of the 17 MLAs against the Speaker’s order, the Supreme Court upheld their disqualification but not the directive that they could not contest the election till 2023. In the bypolls held the next month, 11 of the 17 were re-elected to the House, on BJP tickets.

October 2010

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The Yediyurappa-led BJP government had a slender majority – at 117, just four more than the cut off mark of 113. In October 2010, 11 of its MLAs withdrew support. The Congress and JD(S) had 101 MLAs, and posed a challenge in case of six Independents swaying their way.

On October 6, the Speaker, K G Bopaiah, allied to the BJP, disqualified the rebel MLAs under the anti-defection law, just after Governor Hans Raj Bharadwaj had asked Yediyurappa to initiate a trust motion. With the rebel MLAs disqualified and the House strength down to 213, Yediyurappa won the trust vote by a voice vote and support of 106 MLAs, amid chaos.

In May 2011, the Supreme Court held that some of the actions of the Speaker in disqualifying the 11 MLAs did not “meet the twin tests of natural justice and fair play”. It also said Yediyurappa had ignored Constitutional norms.

January 2006

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The 2004 Karnataka Assembly polls had thrown up a hung verdict, with the BJP winning 79 seats, the Congress 65 and the JD(S) 58. The Congress and JD(S) initially formed an alliance with Dharam Singh of the Congress as CM.

In January 2006, a dissident group of 42 MLAs of the JD(S), led by Kumarswamy, withdrew support to the Congress, and allied with the BJP. Dharam Singh resigned and the Governor invited the BJP and JD(S) to form the new government.

Kumaraswamy struck a deal that the two parties would hold power for 20 months each. But the coalition collapsed in October 2007, after the JD(S) reneged on transferring power to the BJP. President’s rule was imposed, and the next Assembly elections were held in May 2008.

Goa

2019

In March 2019, newly appointed Chief Minister Sawant urged Governor Mridula Sinha to summon the Assembly for a floor test on March 20, 2019, after sitting CM Manohar Parrikar’s death. Sawant resigned from the Speaker’s chair before he was sworn in as CM ahead of the floor test, and Michael Lobo, then Deputy Speaker, carried out the proceedings.

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The Congress had 14 MLAs, the BJP 12. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Goa Forward Party (GFP) had three each. The NCP had one candidate and there were three Independents. The strength of the Goa Assembly is 40, but there were only 36 sitting MLAs at the time (Parrikar and BJP MLA Francis D’Souzaas had died and two Congress MLAs had resigned).

Sawant won the floor test with the support of 20 MLAs, after the MGP and GFP MLAs as well as three Independents voted for him.

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Sawant consolidated his strength in July 2019, after 10 Congress MLAs and two MGP MLAs defected to the BJP.

1999

In November 1999, five months after the Congress assumed office with Luizinho Faleiro as the Chief Minister, the party’s strength was reduced from 26 to 15 in the 40-member state Assembly after 11 MLAs led by then health minister Francisco Sardinha walked out.

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The BJP extended its support to Sardinha, propping up a government headed by him. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the NCP were also in the alliance.

Just 11 months later though, the BJP engineered a split of the Sardinha-led faction of the Congress.

Sardinha stepped down from the post and the BJP’s Manohar Parikkar was sworn in as Chief Minister with the support of the MGP, four MLAs each from Sardinha’s newly formed party, the original Congress, as well as one Independent.

Gujarat

1995

The BJP won 121 of 182 seats in the 1995 Assembly elections in Gujarat – its highest till then – in the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent riots. However, many MLAs were upset with Keshubhai Patel being made CM. Patel was believed to have the backing of then BJP general secretary and Gujarat in-charge Narendra Modi.

While Patel was away in the US, leaving Ashok Bhatt behind as caretaker CM, Shankersinh Vaghela, then a BJP MP from Godhra, claimed the backing of 105 MLAs and launched a coup in September 1995.

The MLAs were first taken to Vaghela’s village in Vasan and later to the home of a Congress leader in a village in Gandhinagar. While some of the MLAs were lured back by the BJP, Vaghela flew the remaining 55 out to Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh overnight.

They only returned after senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to replace the CM. Suresh Mehta was subsequently appointed CM.

But as remnants of the discontent followed the party, in 1996, during a meeting to felicitate Vajpayee, now the Prime Minister, the MLAs literally came to blows. An MLA was stripped of his dhoti and another was nearly set ablaze.

The House was placed under “suspended animation”. The Governor was hospitalised at the time when Vaghela staked claim to form the government after parading 103 MLAs before him, including of the BJP, Congress and some Independents. The BJP MLAs numbered 48, more than one-third of the total, thus escaping the anti-defection law. Vaghela became CM.

(with inputs from Johnson T A, Mayura Janwalkar, Leena Misra)

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First published on: 30-06-2022 at 10:58:22 am
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