The only option before the beleaguered Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy is to recommend a fresh poll on the valid ground that no party in present circumstances is in a position to provide a stable government. And to add moral and constitutional heft to the recommendation, he should do it ahead of the crucial trust vote in the Assembly which is scheduled for Thursday, July 18. Because he has lost his majority after 16 MLAs deserted the JD(S)- Congress coalition, the usual skullduggery governments indulge in to stay afloat may not succeed this time. The Supreme Court in an extraordinary order on a petition filed by the rebel MLAs ruled that neither the Speaker nor their respective legislative party leaders can force them to attend the House, though the court declined to prescribe any time-limit for the Speaker to pronounce on the validity or otherwise of the resignations of the 16 legislators. In other words, the clause that empowers the Speaker to disqualify a rebel MLA for defiance of the party whip stands extinguished, at least in the present case. The ruling has come in for sharp criticism from the Congress Party for its alleged aid to alleged defectors.
Even if the credentials of the Congress Party to cry foul in the matter remain suspect, having defied the anti-defection law both in word and spirit whenever it suited, it has the liberty to play victim now that the BJP is benefiting from playing the same dirty game it had played not very long ago. In the most likely scenario after the SC ruling, the coalition government is bound to lose the trust vote. Numbers are stacked against it. When it was installed in power last year, the Karnataka post-poll coalition had 117 members as against the BJP’s 106.
With the resignation of 16 MLAs, ten of the Congress and six of the JD(S), the ruling combine is down to 101 in a House of 225. With the BJP claiming the support of 107 members, it is no rocket science to figure out that the dice is fully loaded against Kumaraswamy. What magic can he perform in the next few hours before the vote that can help him win the majority? The answer is nothing.
However the Government might have a trick up its sleeve insofar as the Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar, whose refusal to decide on the validity of the resignations was challenged in the apex court, can suo motu accept the recommendation of the Congress and JD(S) for the disqualification of the rebels. Disqualification would bar the defectors from contesting the resulting by-elections whereas the acceptance of resignations would allow them to not only contest the by-elections but would allow them to become ministers in the next government while they seek re-election within the six-month period.
Whether disqualification should follow after the Speaker has accepted the resignations or the other way round was not clear since the SC declined to clarify the matter. In this welter of confusion the only way out is to press for a fresh poll. Even if the BJP succeeds in forming the government after the ouster of Kumaraswamy, it will remain on edge, for a handful of disgruntled MLAs can hold it to ransom.
Besides, a BJP government under the circumstances will lack moral sheen. In its hurry to grab power in as many States as possible, the BJP is attracting deserved criticism for being power-hungry and opportunistic, just as the Congress did in its heyday. It should avoid becoming another Congress unless it too is impervious to an iota of political morality just as the Congress was at the height of its popularity.
People are not fools. They tuck away all these small and big infringements of the moral code in their short memory and take it out on the transgressor at election-time. Besides, there is another important reason why the BJP too should settle for a fresh election rather than allow B S Yeddyurappa to fulfill his ambition to occupy the chief ministerial ‘gaddi’ in the dying years of his political career. Yeddyurappa is not exactly a paragon of political virtue. His party should give him a well-earned retirement and instead groom a younger leader with potential and a clean image as the BJP’s new face in Karnataka. The party cannot be a prisoner of Yeddyurappa’s ambition.