Karnataka elections 2018: How it unfolded, from midnight at CJI home to 4:30 am in SC

Would the CJI allow an unprecedented midnight hearing? The first indication came around 12.20 am, when the barricades were partially moved. Minutes later, the Registrar and another official drove in. A dozen TV crews arrived.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi | Published: May 18, 2018 5:21:05 am
Karnataka elections 2018: How it unfolded, from midnight at CJI home to 4:30 am in SC Mukul Rohatgi at Supreme court in New Delhi. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

Hours after the Karnataka Governor invited the BJP’s B S Yeddyurappa to form the government, the Congress legal team in Delhi began laying the groundwork for battle. Around midnight, advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi and his team stationed themselves near the heavily barricaded 5 Krishna Menon Marg, residence of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. An hour before that, Singhvi had rushed to the SC Registrar’s residence to place two petitions seeking an urgent intervention from the CJI to restrain the swearing-in.

Would the CJI allow an unprecedented midnight hearing? The first indication came around 12.20 am, when the barricades were partially moved. Minutes later, the Registrar and another official drove in. A dozen TV crews arrived. “It is a million-dollar question. We will have to wait,” an anchor said to the camera. At 1:04 am, news broke that the CJI Misra had indeed allowed an urgent hearing, at 1:45am.

The suspense shifted to the next question: who would head the Bench ? The first word came from Singhvi. “Irrespective of merits, very gracious of SC to fix hearing at 145 at ct no.2. Shows that justice never sleeps & accessibility is 24*7, where merits so demand. Which apex court in world allows such accessibility,” Singhvi tweeted.

Court number 2 suggested that Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the second most senior judge, could hear the matter as his bench sits here. However, 10 minutes later, sources in the registry confirmed the matter would be heard at court number 6 by a bench of Justices A K Sikri, S A Bobde and Ashok Bhushan.

The action moved to the SC, outside Gate E. Even as the counsel for the petitioners began arguing their case inside, at 1:40 am, JD(S) spokesperson Danish Ali began arguing the case before TV anchors. “Listen, let me tell you clearly, we have the numbers. They cannot stop us.” And, after a brief pause: “117. We have the numbers.” The cameras turned to former Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi, as he arrived. “Tell us what can the Supreme Court order be,” reporters asked. With little time left for the hearing to begin, Rohatgi rushed inside. There, he made his argument clear: There could be an injunction against the Governor’s order. Two cameras turned back towards Ali. He was equally clear: “We have the numbers. They cannot stop us.”

At 2:05 am, a white SUV arrived outside Gate E. Unable to enter, it waited while security officers tried to clear the way. Eventually, the SUV had to leave. Inside was Additional Solicitor General of India Maninder Singh. He entered through another gate. At 2:15 am, Attorney General K K Venugopal arrived. He was made to wait. This time, the cameras did make way for the car.

As Singhvi began arguing, texts were exchanged between those inside and those outside. “In UP, Jharkhand and Goa, the SC had given 48 hours to the government to prove its majority on the floor of the House,” Singhvi argued. “The Congress has cited the Goa case,” a TV journalist said into the camera. “Singhvi has cited the Sarkaria commission report,” said another. Minutes later, the first observations by the judges were conveyed. “Judge Bobde has asked whether the courts can restrain the Governor,” said a journalist in Malayalam.

The focus shifted to a letter by Yeddyurappa to the Governor. “The judge has said the Congress lawyers don’t have the letter given to the Governor based on which he has invited Yeddyurappa,” the Hindi journalist said. Minutes later, the journalist zoomed out his phone screen: “We have the letter. This is the letter.” Even as he read out the content, he realised that this was a letter written by the Governor, not by Yeddyurappa.

Around 3:30 am, Rohatgi began his argument. Minutes later, it was conveyed that Venugopal was arguing. And later, that the court had asked the AG on what basis the BJP was claiming a majority. Rohatgi’s argument: “The SC should not have allowed the midnight hearing. The last such hearing was in the Yakub Menon case. This is not an urgent matter.”

At 4:20 am, news came that the SC had decided it would not stay the swearing-in. An advocate, Eitesham, claiming to be part of Singhvi’s legal team, told the media: “The SC has decided not to stay the swearing-in. The court will continue to hear the petition.”

The lawyer would later address different channels about the “order”. The legal team he claimed to represent, however, would continue to argue inside. At 4:30 am, Singhvi began insisting the bench hear arguments further. The hearing resumed. An hour later, the SC issued notices to Yeddyurappa and asked him to produce his letter to the Governor. It fixed the hearing at 2 pm. However, minutes later, the court said it would take a day’s break and hear the matter on Friday at 10:30 am.

Outside the court, three students from Karnataka were upset. “I am very saddened by the way my state has been projected,” said Vivek, a UPSC aspirant in Delhi. “The journalists are discussing if the SC can order bringing in CBI or police to ensure there is no horse-trading. It is as if we are discussing criminals and not elected representatives.”

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