Bengaluru: Karnataka Assembly speaker K R Ramesh Kumar on Thursday disqualified three rebel Congress MLAs under the anti-defection law, in a move that heightened the suspense over government formation excercise in the state two days after the collapse of the Congress-JDS ministry.
With all attention riveted on the Speaker's action, Kumar held that the resignation by the three MLAs were "not voluntary and genuiune" and therefore proceeded to disqualify them under the anti-defection law with immediate effect till the end of the term of the current House in 2023. The Speaker said he would decide on both resignations and disqualification pleas pending before him in respect of 14 other MLAs "in the next couple of days", which may prolong the political turmoil and have a bearing on government formation.
The 14-month-old Congress-JDS coalition government headed by H D Kumaraswamy collapsed on Tuesday after losing the vote of confidence in the assembly in a climax to the three-week long intense power struggle triggered by the raft of resignations by the rebel MLAs. Kumar's pronouncement of the ruling on disqualification pleas by the Congress and JDS and resignations by the MLAs in a phased manner is seen as a tough message to other rebels, who are still camping in Mumbai insisting they would not step back from their decision to quit their assembly membership.
Congress rebel MLAs Ramesh Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumatalli and Shankar faced the tough action from the Speaker, who made it clear that a member disqualified under the anti-defection law cannot contest or get elected till the end of the term of the present House. "They have violated the provisions of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution (anti-defection law) and therefore are disqualified," he told reporters here.
They cease to be members from "this day" till the expiry of the current assembly in 2023, the Speaker added. Since Shankar, who was earlier recognised as an Independent in the assembly, had 'merged' his party KPJP with Congress, he also faced the action as its member based on the petition by the Congress seeking his disqualification, Kumar explained. He said resignation was a "respectable terminology", while disqualification was "admonishing," while emphasising that the anti-defection law could not be used as a "monstrous law."
"No by-election...nothing will work...this is a quasi judicial body (speaker's office)," Kumar said, adding, "I know these matters will go to the court." On the remaining 14 cases, he said he is "holding them back" and it would require a "couple of days" for him to give his verdict. Kumar said he first decided on the resignation, rejecting them as they were not voluntary and genuine "based on circumstances" and thereafter dealt with disqualification after considering "evidences and other orders." Asked if the same yardstick would be used against other rebel MLAs, he said, "wait and see."
"It is a hypothetical question," Kumar said, when asked whether the remaining MLAs could still come around and withdraw their resignation. He said "It is the responsibility of all political parties that such impasse doesn't continue and Constitutional crisis is not created and to see that the finance bill is passed." The speaker had earlier said that if the Finance bill was not passed by July 31, the "government will come to a standstill and we will not be in a position to even pay salaries, such a necessity has come, what to do?" Asked if the Finance Bill can be passed by a presidential order if government is not formed by July 31, he said it cannot be done and either the suspension of the assembly or the invocation of President rule has to be done.
"I don't know what the calculations or the thought process of the Government of India is," he added. Asked if the non-passage of the finance bill would lead to "financial anarchy", he said, "we are nearing a crisis." With their resignations still pending, the 15 rebel MLAs of the Congress and the JD(S) had on Wednesday sought four weeks' time to appear before the Speaker in connection with the plea for their disqualification from the state assembly.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi in its order on Wednesday last gave the Assembly Speaker the freedom to decide on the resignation of the 15 MLAs within such time-frame as considered appropriate by him. The Congress and the JD(S) had sought disqualification under the anti-defection law of the rebel lawmakers who, however, were undeterred by it and skipped the assembly proceedings during the crucial confidence vote Tuesday.
Welcoming the speaker's ruling, KPCC President Dinesh Gundu Rao calle it a "victory of democracy." Meanwhile, as it looked to the central leadership to take a shot at government formation, the BJP camp here was devoid of any major activity barring internal meetings held by party state unit chief B S Yeddyurappa, who is waiting in the wings for a fourth term as chief minister. A group of Karnataka BJP leaders, including Jagdish Shettar, Arvind Limbavali, J C Madhuswamy, Basavaraj Bommai and Yeddyurappa's son Vijayendra, met party chief Amit Shah in New Delhi and reportedly discussed the government formation.
Rebel Congress MLA Shivaram Hebbar, who returned home from Mumbai, where the disgruntled lawmakers were holed up, expressed confidence that the speaker who is a senior and experienced person will take right decision on their resignation. Speaking to local news channels in Yellapuram in Uttara Kannada district, he said "we (rebel MLAs) are not disgruntled, we are helpless. As no one came to help us we came out." Stating that there was no change in their decision, Hebbar said he and other rebel legislators stand by their decision (of resigning). "There is no change in it."
Responding to a question, he said, he does not fear about disqualification and will face it. He also said they will take decision on their political future only after the resignations are accepted. Caretaker Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy said no one can give a stable government in the state in the present political scene. Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah rubbished reports he had instigated the rebels to resign and destabilise the coalition government.
Cautioning media houses against peddling "false news", Siddaramaiah said he would give them a befiting reply if they repeat the allegation in front of him. According to sources, Siddaramaiah has said that if the government is not formed by July 30 there will be political uncertainty, which may pave the way for mid-term polls, and asked leaders to focus on facing such an eventuality. The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed two Independent MLAs from Karnataka to withdraw their plea seeking a direction to the assembly speaker to conduct "forthwith" a floor test on the H D Kumaraswamy government's trust move.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took note of the submissions of the senior lawyers representing Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar and Kumaraswamy that they have no objection to the withdrawal of the petition and allowed it on the ground it has become infructuous after Tuesday evening's floor test. The Kumaraswamy government lost the vote by 95-105 in a House with an effective strength of 205 members.