The Supreme Court, in a rare overnight hearing, refused to stay BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa’s swearing-in as the Karnataka Chief Minister. Hearing a petition by the Congress-JDS alliance, the court added that the government formation in the state would, however, be subject to the final outcome of the case before it. Listing the matter for Friday, the court said it wanted to see the letters dated May 15 and 16 submitted by Yeddyurappa to Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala staking claim to form the next government.
Much against the Congress and JDS’ wishes, Yeddyurappa was administered the oath of office by Governor Vala at 9 this morning. Here is a run-up of all the events that lead to the swearing-in ceremony.
8 pm: Rumours of BJP forming the government
Both Yeddyurappa and Congress-JDS alliance met Governor Vajubhai Vala on Wednesday. Amid the accusations of horsetrading, BJP MLA Suresh Kumar tweeted at 7.56 pm that the Governor has invited the BJP to form government. At 8.31 pm, the party’s Karnataka Twitter handle also put out a tweet saying: “The moment that crores of Kannadigas are awaiting is here,” and confirmed the oath-taking ceremony. Both the tweets created a frenzy in the Congress party, which called the Governor’s move “tantamount to murdering democracy, trampling Constitution & disregarding all precedents.” However, both the tweets were deleted within minutes.
8.30 pm: Congress holds a presser
Following rumours about the BJP’s swearing-in ceremony, Congress’ P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Vivek Thankla held a press conference slamming the Governor’s decision. Chidambaram said by inviting Yeddyurappa, the Governor was walking on a perilous path that is illegal. The Congress cited the Goa case where the court upheld Goa Governor Mridula Sinha’s invitation to BJP leader Manohar Parrikar to form the government even though the Congress had emerged as the single largest party. While rejecting the Congress’s objection on March 14, 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered a floor test to be held in two days. “Governor invites Mr Yeddyurappa to manufacture a majority in 15 days. Governor gives Mr Yeddyurappa 15 days to convert the number 104 into 111,” Chidambaram tweeted as the Governor’s decision became official. At the press conference, he said, the Governor is constitutionally bound to prevent poaching. “If he is inviting anyone but Kumaraswamy, then he is is encouraging poaching…How can a minority become a majority unless you poach?”
9.30 pm: The formal invitation letter ends all speculations
Putting an end to the suspense, Governor Valubhai Vala’s formal invite to the BJP was released. Giving the BJP 15 days to prove its majority, the letter read, “I am in receipt of your letter dated 16th May 2018 informing me that you have been elected as the leader of the BJP legislative party of Karnataka. I am also in receipt of your letter dated 15th May 2018 staking claim to form the government. I invite you to form the government and be sworn in as the chief minister of Karnataka,’’ the Governor said in a letter to Yeddyurappa. “I may also direct you that you would seek a vote of confidence on the floor of the house showing that you command the confidence of the house. This process shall be completed within fifteen days from the date of the assumption your office as the chief minister of Karnataka,’’ the letter states.
11.30 pm: Congress moves Supreme Court
Minutes after the invitation, the Congress lashed out at the Governor’s move calling it “partisan and biased” and explored legal means to stall the swearing-in. “The Governor has shamed his office,” Congress’ Randeep Surjewala said. JDS leader Kumaraswamy, meanwhile, called the invitation “unconstitutional.” “By giving 15 days time to BJP to prove majority, Governor is encouraging horse-trading by BJP leaders, this is unconstitutional. We will discuss the future plan. We will not let it go easily…,” he said.
The Congress rushed to the Supreme Court Registrar challenging the Governor’s decision, seeking an urgent hearing by the CJI. “Since swearing-in now announced for 9 am on 17/5/18, in a 9 pm invite by governor today to BSY to form Govt, urgency to seek listing in sc tonite is self validating. If sc registry accepts petrs request on basis of petn settled by me and filed tonite, I wl appear and argue tonite,” Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi wrote on Twitter.
What is the petition?
The petition, filed by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee and JD(S) state president HD Kumaraswamy, moved the court to quash the order of the Governor inviting Yeddyurappa to form the next government on Thursday and declare it as “unconstitutional, arbitrary, illegal, void-ab-initio, and violative of Article 14 of Constitution of India”. It plea also sought the court to issue an appropriate writ/direction to the Governor to “invite the alliance of JD(S) and INC which has the support of more than 112 MLAs to form the government under the leadership of Shri H. D Kumaraswamy.”
12.30 am: Registrar accepts petition, heads to CJI’s house
The Supreme Court Registrar, after scrutinising the plea, reached the residence of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra around 12.30 am. The CJI formed a three-judge bench, comprising Justices AK Sikri, SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan, to hear the matter. This is the second time that the apex court has conducted a late-night hearing. In July 2015, the Supreme Court listened to a last-minute petition against Yakub Memon’s execution over his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts.
Attorney General K K Venugopal appeared for respondent, the Union of India, and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi represented three BJP MLAs Govind M Karjol, C M Udasi and Basavaraj Bommai and senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi argued for the Congress.
1.30 am: The counsels reach the courtroom
At around 1.30 am, the counsels arrived at the Supreme Court. Before the hearing began, Singhvi thanked the top court for hearing the petition at the odd hour. “Shows justice never sleeps and accessibility is 24X7 where merits so demand. Which apex court in world allows such accessibility,” he tweeted.
During the hearing, 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 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.
Court questions BJP’s numbers
The court also questioned Yeddyurappa on how he can prove his majority, given that it has only 107 seats, whereas the Congress JDS alliance claims to comfortably cross the magic number — 112 — required to form the government. Responding to the apex court, KK Vengopal 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.
Mukul Rohatgi also 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.” Rohatgi also questioned the manner in which the petition was filed in the midnight and said, “Heavens will not fall if somebody is sworn-in. This is not a matter of life or death or as if someone is going to be hanged.”
5.30 am: Court refuses to stay the swearing-in
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?”
Closing the arguments at 5.30 in the morning, the Supreme Court refused to stay the swearing-in but added, “As far as swearing-in is concerned, we are not restraining it, but we are making it subject to the outcome of the case.”
9:00 am: BS Yeddyurappa is the new Karnataka CM
After two days of political drama, BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka on Thursday morning. Given the dramatic turn of events, top leaders of BJP including PM Modi and Amit Shah skipped the ceremony. Ahead of his swearing-in ceremony, BSY had sought the people’s support and blessings. Taking to Twitter, he said, “I seek your support and blessings as I take oath as the Chief Minister of Karnataka tomorrow on May 17 at 9 AM in Raj Bhavan. Honourable Governor Shri Vajubhai Vala will administer the oath.”
Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, slammed the saffron party saying, India “mourns” the defeat of democracy while BJP takes over the reins of the government. On Twitter, he says, “The BJP’s irrational insistence that it will form a Govt. in Karnataka, even though it clearly doesn’t have the numbers, is to make a mockery of our Constitution. This morning, while the BJP celebrates its hollow victory, India will mourn the defeat of democracy.”