Diabolic approaches by political parties and their leaders are dragging the Supreme Court into day to day politics but so far the court has managed to get better of the situation by doing some real tight rope walking.
Karnataka was a milestone, when a midnight session, the propriety of which is still being contested, sealed the fate of a prospective BJP government under Yeddyurappa and paved the way for H D Kumaraswamy to form a coalition government with Congress. It was widely hailed as the victory of democracy, although the celebrations did not last long.
Since then, political parties have rushed to the Supreme Court on the slightest of pretexts, many of them causing embarrassment not only to the litigants, political parties and even the court. The run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections had seen a series of cases where the help of the court was being sought to settle political scores. Due credit must be given to the court for refusing to play ball for the politicians.
After over an year of uncharacteristic existence, in which chief minister Kumaraswamy has mostly appeared despondent, to the point of being reduced to tears literally, Karnataka is back to the centre stage and the arena has once again shifted to the Supreme Court. The issues this time are more complicated and have thrown up certain fundamental aspects of our current style of parliamentary democracy.
While the dramatis personae one year ago had the Governor as the central character, this time it is the Speaker and as such the role has several additional layers of intrigue and intensity. On show is a mind game of the highest order, which at times takes the shape of a hide and seek between the court and the Speaker. And the story has had several twists and turns.
The court had earlier set a deadline for the Speaker to take a decision on the resignation of the MLAs who revolted against the Kumaraswamy government, which the Speaker refused to do as he approached the court in a counter move. The speaker insisted that he cannot be asked to stick to a deadline for taking a decision as he has to verify the genuineness of the resignation letters of the MLAs. The Speaker maintained the position that the resignation drama by the MLAs was part of a ‘strategy’ and, therefore, cannot be considered to have been taken by free will.
The court has since changed its stand and upheld the Speaker’s power to decide on the resignation of the MLAs without setting a deadline. In its interim order the court said that the Speaker is free to decide on the status of rebel lawmakers, but refused to grant everything to him on a platter by putting a rider on the his ability to force the revolting members to attend the assembly session, in which the Chief Minister is planning to move a vote of confidence motion. The game plan of the ruling alliance was to get the rebel legislators disqualified for violating their respective party whips, which required them to vote in favour of the confidence motion. But the court has virtually blocked that route for the government, which was seeking to use the threat to bring the defiant MLAs around to supporting Kumaraswamy.
The court has given probably the best verdict in the given circumstances, at the same time promising to look into the whole gamut of issues inherent in the crisis. Accordingly, a constitutional bench will be formed to examine the powers and responsibilities of the Speaker for once and all. While the Speaker’s role is vital for the smooth functioning of parliamentary democracy, over a period of time this role has come under a cloud, with speakers in most cases behaving like an extension of the government and safeguarding its interest to the exclusion of other considerations. Gone are the days when the speaker of the house used to follow a certain degree of impartiality and accommodated the sentiments of the opposition.
In the Karnataka instance itself, though the Speaker has been refusing to decide on the resignation letters of MLAs on the ground that their move was part of a strategy, critics could cite the same thing about his own decision to delay consideration of the resignations. In reality, it amounted to one strategy versus another, as the Speaker was seen trying to help the government tide over the crisis. While both sides have claimed a degree of success from the latest court order, it brings little cheer to Kumaraswamy as the fate of his ministry appears sealed. With the rebel legislators threatening to stand their course, irrespective of whether they face disqualification, Kumaraswamy has virtually no hope of surviving the crisis.
In a way, that would be the best turn of events in the given situation. The JDS-Congress government had no credibility right from the first day of the ministry being sworn in, with Kumaraswamy constantly blaming the Congress party for not letting him rule in peace. Karnataka is yet another example of post-poll alliances formed only for the sake of capturing power failing to hold beyond the initial euphoria.
The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.