In a rare early morning hearing, the Supreme Court of India decided not to stop the BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa from being sworn-in as the chief minister of Karnataka on Thursday. However, the Bench of Justices A K Sikri, S A Bobde and Ashok Bhushan, hearing the petitions by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief G Parameshwara and Janata Dal (Secular) president H D Kumaraswamy, said it wanted to see the letters dated May 15 and 16 written by Yeddyurappa to Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala staking claim to form government and will hear the matter again at 10.30 am on Friday, May 18.
The Supreme Court Bench started hearing the case around 2.10 am in court no 6 with senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi representing the petitioners and Attorney General K K Venugopal appearing for the respondent Union of India and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for two BJP MLAs. The other two respondents for the State of Karnataka and Yeddyurappa were not represented in the matter.
Singhvi argued that the Governor must have invited the post-poll coalition to form government as no single party had secured a majority. He questioned the 15 days time given to Yeddyurappa for proving majority saying the Supreme Court had earlier said “to give such time is to encourage the constitutional sin of poaching…”. Singhvi contended that while even imposition of President’s Rule under Article 356 is subject to judicial review and wondered why the Governor’s decision cannot be subjected to judicial review. “Governor’s exercise of governmental duties can be fully reviewed,” he argued. Singhvi also cited instances of Meghalaya, Manipur, Goa, Delhi, Jharkhand and J&K as precedents of post-poll alliances being invited to form governments. “Yedyurappa has staked claim to form government as leader of only his own party BJP, while Kumaraswamy has staked claim as leader of coalition of his party and the Congress”, he said.
“Someone said we are giving horses a bad name by calling it horse trading. We are trading humans and calling it horse trading,” said Singhvi, pointing out that the fortnight given for proving majority will encourage poaching. He lauded the court for taking up the plea at the odd hour. “Irrespective of merits, the fact that three judges of the SC can sit at 2 am in the night and hear the matter is a victory for democracy,” he said.
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When Justice Bobde asked how the court could assume anything unless it saw the letter (given by Yeddyurappa to the Governor), Singhvi said: “Yes, you can’t, on mere speculation, so postpone it by two days.” To this the Judge countered: “So can we postpone on basis of mere speculation?”
The court asked how Yeddyurappa could cite numbers in his favour given the arithmetic when other side has given a list of those backing it.
Arguing for the Union of India, Attorney General K K Venugopal said “we don’t know what happened in exchanges between Governor and Yeddyurappa, or what he has said in his letter.” The AG argued that a floor test was the best to know if the Governor’s decision was right. “Heavens are not going to fall as far as the other side is concerned if that is going to be heard after the 15 days,” he said.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for two MLAs, contended that the Governor cannot be made answerable to the court. “The petition should be dismissed,” he said, adding that it is completely misconceived. “The petitioners are trying to stultify a democratic process,” he added.
When the court said it was not restraining the swearing in of Yeddyurappa, Singhvi said this won’t be the right thing to do. “Swearing in can be deferred from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. It will be difficult to unscramble later,” he argued.
Rohatgi countered that the effect of the relief sought by the petitioners will be interdicting the constitutional duty of the Governor under Article 164 which deals with power of Governor to appoint CM and council of ministers. He said the Goa case where SC upheld the Governor’s invite to BJP leader Manohar Parikkar who led the post-poll coalition is different from Karnataka situation. “In Goa, the single largest party Congress did not stake claim to form government.”
Allowing the oath taking, the Supreme Court said this will, however, be subject to outcome of writ petition filed by Congress and JD(S).