Supreme Court order nullifies whip, jolt to coalition

Bengaluru: All eyes will be on Karnataka Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar when the State Legislative Assembly meets on Thursday under the shadow of Wednesday's Supreme Court verdict.

On the one hand, the apex court gave unbridled powers to the Speaker to decide on the resignations of the 15 rebel Congress and Janata Dal (S) MLAs and, on the other, it told the Speaker that he cannot compel the rebel MLAs to attend the proceedings of the state Assembly.

In other words, what powers the right hand gave to the Speaker, the left hand has taken back.

In an interim order, a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said it thought fit to permit the Speaker to decide on the resignations “within such time frame as the Speaker may consider appropriate”.

The bench added that the MLAs should be given an option to attend or not to attend the proceedings of the House.

In other words, the whip issued by the Congress and the JD(S) to party MLAs would not be operative. Wednesday's order came on petitions by the rebel MLAs challenging the action of the Speaker in not accepting their resignations.

The interim verdict is a big blow to the HD Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-Congress coalition government on two grounds - the 15 rebel MLAs cannot be forced to attend the on-going Assembly session which will take up the CM's trust vote; secondly, the court hinted that whatever action the speaker takes would come under judicial scrutiny.

This means that the epitaph of the wobbling Kumaraswamy government can as well be written in advance. When the Assembly meets tomorrow, the 15 MLAs would, in all likelihood, stay away, bringing down the strength of the House down to 209, including the Speaker.

The half way mark would be 104. The BJP has 105 MLAs on its side and the support of two independents. That would make it 107. The coalition will have just 100 - 66 of the Congress and 34 of the JD(S).

If the numbers hold tomorrow, the 14-month old Kumaraswamy government would collapse - just as other post-poll coalition governments in the state had collapsed in the past..

But the numbers in the House will reduce only when the resignations are accepted by the Speaker or if the rebels are disqualified. Even in that case, the Kumaraswamy government will not have the numbers if the rebel MLAs stay away when the voting comes up.

Soon after the verdict, Kumaraswamy and BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa went to Shiva temples to seek the Lord's blessings.

After pleasing the gods, there was hectic political activity. The focus was on two independent MLAs who switched loyalty to the BJP. The Congress is desperately trying to wean them away while the BJP flew them from one place to another.

The two independent lawmakers would be brought by a special chartered plane by R Ashoka, former BJP Home Minister, directly to the Assembly on Thursday.

Meanwhile, hectic parleys went on till late in the night between Kumaraswamy, Congress legislative party leader Siddaramaiah and other senior ministers. The leaders also met the Speaker.

Minister Krishna Byre Gowda gave a hint that it will not be just a plain vanilla meeting of the Assembly or the trust vote. “Other issues will also come up,” he said.

Speculation is rife that the rebel MLAs may be disqualified by the Speaker. But experts are divided on the issue. Can the Speaker decide on the resignations of the rebel MLAs before the trust vote? Technically, he can because the apex court has left the time to him.

The question is what if he disqualifies the rebel MLAs. He will have to show sufficient reason for that, but disobeying the whip will not be a reason to disqualify them.

The coalition government could use the threat of disqualification to put a fear into the rebel MLAs. But the rebel lawmakers are in no mood to listen as they know that the speaker's decision can be challenged.

This is why the Supreme Court said that the position and powers of the Speaker after the enactment of the anti-defection law in 1985 may require a relook.

By Shankar Raj

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