New Delhi: In a breather for the beleaguered Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition in Karnataka, the Supreme Court restrained Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar till Tuesday from deciding on both the resignation and disqualification of rebel MLAs as Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, in a surprise move on Friday, announced that he would seek a trust vote.
As Karnataka headed for a period of prolonged political uncertainty, the BJP decided to move its MLAs to a resort near Bengaluru amid fears of reverse poaching by the ruling combine after Kumaraswamy's announcement. The JD(S) MLAs have been also put up in a resort near Bengaluru.
The apex court on Thursday had directed Kumar to take a decision "forthwith" on the resignation of the 10 rebel Congress and JD(S) MLAs. However, Kumar later said he would require more time to come to a decision.
In all, 16 Congress and JD(S) MLAs have submitted their resignations.
The Congress had also initiated disqualification proceedings against its rebel MLAs. The ruling coalition's total strength is 116 – the Congress with 78, the JDS with 37 and the BSP with a single lawmaker, besides the Speaker.
With the support of the two independents, who resigned on Monday, the BJP has 107 MLAs in the 224-member House, where the half-way mark is 113. If the resignations of the 16 MLAs are accepted, the coalition's tally will be reduced to 100.
Citing "weighty issues that have arisen", an apex court bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said the matter will be considered on July 16 and status quo as of Friday should be maintained.
The bench specifically mentioned in the order that the Speaker would not decide on the issue of the resignation or the disqualification of the rebel MLAs to enable the court to judge the larger issues raised during the hearing of the matter.
The bench noted in its order that the issue of maintainability of the rebel MLAs' petition under Article 32 of the Constitution was raised by the speaker and Kumaraswamy.
During the hearing, Kumar told the apex court that the allegations levelled by the 10 rebel MLAs, claiming he had made himself "scarce" and was unavailable on the day of their resignation, is "fallacious".
Three rebel Congress and JDS MLAs also failed to appear before Kumar as sought by him for a personal hearing over their resignations, said official sources. They were Narayana Gowda of the JDS and Anand Singh and Prathap Gouda Patil of the Congress.
Trust vote in Assembly
As his government teetered on the brink, Kumaraswamy announced he would seek a trust vote and sought time from the Speaker.
The surprise announcement from the embattled chief minister came in the state Assembly, which commenced its 11-day session in the backdrop of the resignation of the 16 ruling coalition MLAs, which now threatens the government's survival.
"The ongoing political developments, this confusion has been created due to the action of some MLAs. I am ready for everything. I am not here to stick on to power," he said.
Kumar said a slot would be allotted whenever the chief minister opted for it. "The chief minister has spoken his mind that he would not cling to power amid the confusion. He said he will seek the trust of the House," he said.
"Whenever he tells me that he wants to move the trust motion, the very next day I will put it in the business of the day," he added.
Senior Congress leader Siddaramiah said the decision to seek a trust vote was taken by the two ruling partners and asserted it has the numbers.
After the developments of the day, resort politics came to the fore again as all three key players — the Congress, JDS and and opposition BJP — herded their MLAs in luxury stays to keep their flock intact.
While the JDS chose the serene surroundings of Nandi Hill on the outskirts of Bengaluru, its partner Congress opted for a hotel in the state capital, sources in the parties said.
The BJP MLAs, meanwhile, are staying in a resort near Yelahanka and an ultra-luxury hotel.
While several rebel MLAs have been staying in a Mumbai hotel since their resignations last Saturday, the Congress and JDS are keen to avoid any further erosion in their strength.
The Congress and BJP MLAs in January were shifted to resorts to avoid poaching following a brief spell of instablity triggered by two independent MLAs withdrawing their support to the government.
This time, the lush green resort spread over 275 acres on the foothills of Nandi Hill overlooking a lake bustled with activity as over 30 MLAs of the JDS have been accommodated there for the past three days.
"We have booked 34 rooms there. Except for the chief minister and a few others, about 30 MLAs are staying there," said a senior JDS functionary.
The BJP is concerned that the ruling side could make an attempt to poach its MLAs although former chief minister and senior leader Siddaramaiah on Friday ruled out any such move.
"They (Congress and JDS) are trying to buy time to make some arrangements to keep the government afloat, despite knowing that its end has come. They are working on some equations, which I doubt will work," said BJP spokesperson S Prakash.
(With inputs from PTI)