Bengaluru: The Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly KR Ramesh Kumar on Thursday almost defied the Supreme Court by saying that he cannot be pushed around by the apex court. In other words, he cannot be provoked into taking a decision or setting a time-frame for accepting or rejecting the resignation of the 16 rebel MLAs. What Kumar put out was a veiled hint to the Supreme Court that he is well within his rights in the legislative sphere, just as the apex court is supreme in the judicial sphere. The twain shall not meet.
The Supreme Court had asked the Speaker to take a call on the resignations of the MLAs by 6 pm on Thursday. This made MLAs rush from Mumbai and virtually run to the Speaker's chamber to submit their resignations in the desired format. One of the MLAs even squatted in front of the Speaker, demanding that his resignation be accepted. Later, addressing a press conference, the Speaker got highly emotional when he clarified his stand, even as rebel MLAs continued to allege that he is deliberately dithering over the resignations of JDS and Congress MLAs.
The Speaker accepted that the MLAs have now submitted their resignations in the right format and he will examine them through the night. But there was a caveat - that he is 70-years old, needs to look into each resignation at his own pace; once that is done, he will call the MLAs, have a chat with them, before taking a decision.
Justifying the delay, the Speaker said, "I am delaying the matter because I love this land. I love only the Constitution. I am not acting in haste because of my love for the people." Implicit in his remark was the hint that the Supreme Court was acting in haste and that he is not in sync with the order of the court. "It is not just about accepting and rejecting a resignation. Should I be working at lightning speed? For whose sake? What about the rules," the Speaker demanded.
The Speaker's ire against the Supreme Court was understandable as the apex court refused to give him an urgent hearing in the matter. Kumar had moved the Supreme Court seeking more time to deal with the resignation issue. "In the morning we have fixed the matter for hearing tomorrow," the court said, while accepting the plea.
The hearing will come in front of a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi again on Friday. The Speaker responded saying: "My obligation is to the people of this state and the Constitution of this Republic." Here again he hinted that he is not obliged to follow the court's order.
The Speaker also slammed the MLAs for approaching the Supreme Court. "Should MLAs go to the Supreme Court, just because they want to meet me? Even the Supreme Court should have thought about it. Who has stopped the MLAs from meeting me? Instead, they sat in Mumbai and went to the Supreme Court and then you accuse me of delaying.""The MLAs did not communicate with me and rushed to the Governor. What can he do? Is it not misusing the functionary of the nation? They approached the Supreme Court also," he said.
But Kumar refused to comment on why he absented himself and refused to meet the MLAs when they first went to him to submit their resignations. Legal experts say the Speaker is the king in the legislative sphere and the Supreme Court cannot order him around. It is only when he takes a decision, that the MLAs can challenge it.
Legal experts also say that the Speaker would be on a sticky wicket if he disqualifies the MLAs, because the MLAs have only resigned, not defected. But then the Speaker can take a call that the MLAs are being disqualified for defying the whip of the parties - the JD(S) and the Congress. This is precisely why Congress and JD(S) have issued a whip in the Karnataka assembly and warned all rebel MLAs to vote in favour of the party and the coalition government.
The two parties have also threatened to take action as per the anti-defection law, if they do not vote on party lines. The two parties have asked all rebel MLAs to attend Friday's assembly session to pass the finance bill and other matters, failing which the absent MLAs will be disqualified under the anti-defection law. Once they are disqualified, the MLAs cannot contest elections for 6 years or hold any constitutional posts. The next couple of days will be interesting as there will be a three-cornered tussle - between the Speaker, the Supreme Court and the rebel MLAs.
- Shankar Raj