Ahead of Crucial Trust Vote, SC Says Rebel MLAs Can’t Be Forced to Participate in Assembly Proceedings
The court also said Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar was free to decide on the resignations of the rebel legislators within such a time frame as he deemed appropriate.
Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy leaves Vidhana Soudha after meeting Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar in Bengaluru on Wednesday. (PTI)
New Delhi: The survival of the 14-month-old Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka hangs precariously on the eve of the trust vote with the Supreme Court on Wednesday holding that the 15 rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs cannot be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing Assembly session.
As the court order virtually sounded the death knell for Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy in the battle for numbers on the floor of the House, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi in its order at the same time gave Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar the freedom to decide on the resignation of the 15 MLAs within such a time frame as considered appropriate by him.
Locked in a face-off with rebel MLAs whose resignation he has refused to accept, Kumar welcomed the court decision and said he would conduct himself responsibly in accordance with the principles of the Constitution.
Hailing the decision, the rebel MLAs camping in Mumbai said there was no question of going back on their resignations from the Assembly or attending the session while Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa said Kumaraswamy will have to resign on Thursday when he faces the confidence vote in the Assembly since he has no majority.
Expressing reservations on the order, the Congress said it nullifed the whip and provided "blanket protection" to MLAs who have betrayed public mandate, setting a "terrible judicial precedent".
The court order on pleas by rebel MLAs for a direction to the Speaker to take a decision on their resignations comes a day before the Congress-JD(S) government faces a floor test, which will end the suspense over the numbers game triggered by a raft of resignations by lawmakers of the ruling coalition.
While 16 MLAs -- 13 from the Congress and three from JD(S) -- have resigned, two independent MLAs S Shankar and H Nagesh have withdrawn their support to the coalition government.
The ruling coalition's strength in the House is 117-- Congress 78, JD(S) 37, BSP 1, and nominated 1, besides the Speaker. With the support of the two independents, the opposition BJP has 107 MLAs in the 225-member House, including the nominated MLA and Speaker.
If the resignations of the 16 MLAs are accepted or if they are not present in the House, the ruling coalition's tally will be reduced to 101. According to official sources, a nominated member also has the right to vote
The apex court also said the Speaker's decision be placed before it.
"We also make it clear that until further orders, the 15 members of the Assembly ought not to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session of the House and an option should be given to them that they can take part in the proceedings or opt to remain out of the same. We order accordingly," the bench said in its three-page order. It also noted that the imperative necessity at this stage was to maintain the constitutional balance and the conflicting and competing rights canvassed before it.
The bench noted in its order that the issue before it was whether the resignations submitted by the MLAs prior to the petitions for their disqualification under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution should be accorded priority in the decision-making process or whether both sets of proceedings should be taken up simultaneously or the disqualification proceedings should have precedence over the requests for resignation.
"Constitutional principles should not receive an exhaustive enumeration by the court unless such an exercise is inevitable and unavoidable to resolve the issues that may have arisen in any judicial proceeding," the bench said.
It said, "In the present case, having regard to the stage at which the above issues are poised in the light of the facts and circumstances surrounding the same, we are of the view that the questions should receive an answer only at a later stage of the proceedings."
In a video released to the media, rebel Congress MLA BC Patil said, "We are happy with the decision of the honourable Supreme Court, we honour it."
Flanked by 11 other Congress-JD(S) MLAs who have quit, he said, "we all are together and whatever decision we have taken…at any cost no question of going back (on resignations). We stand by our decision. No question of going to assembly."
Yeddyruppa, a former chief minister, said the court decision is a victory of the Constitution and democracy. "It is a moral victory for rebel MLAs," he said.
But Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala made known the party's disappointment.
"The SC's order nullifying the whip and by extension, operation of the Constitution's Xth Schedule to punish MLAs betraying the public mandate, sets a terrible judicial precedent," he said in a series of tweets. "Blanket protection to MLAs, who are driven not by ideology but by far baser concerns, is unheard of."
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the rebel MLAs, said that any whip issued by the ruling parties will now not apply to them.
But Congress troubleshooter and minister DK Shivakumar said the party can issue a whip to ensure the presence of all the party MLAs in the House and take necessary action against them for any violation. He accused some BJP leaders of trying to misguide that the whip is not valid.
(With inputs from agencies)
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