Through a show of hands, the legislators of Madhya Pradesh Assembly will decide the fate of the Kamal Nath government by 5pm on Friday, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. The proceedings of the floor-test will be videographed and telecast live.
"The session of the MP Assembly that has been deferred shall be reconvened on March 20. A single agenda for the Assembly -- to hold floor test on March 20. Citing by show of hands," read a part of the order passed by the apex court.
A two-judge bench, led by Justice DY Chandrachud, asked the MP Assembly to reconvene for the trust vote after it was adjourned by Speaker NP Prajapati on March 16 citing the coronavirus outbreak.
The court said if the rebel MLAs want to come to the state Assembly, the Director Generals of Police of both Karnataka and MP should provide them security.
Hours later, Nath said his government will seek legal advice and study every aspect of the judgment. While the BJP publicly hailed the ruling, Nath in a tweet said, "We will study every aspect of the Supreme Court order, discuss it with our legal experts and take a decision on the basis of their advice."
The MP Congress Legislature Party (CLP) has issued a whip, asking all its MLAs to remain present in the Assembly on Friday and vote in favour of the government during the floor test. The three-line whip was issued by Congress's chief whip and Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Govind Singh.
The opposition BJP also issued a whip, with the party's chief whip Narottam Mishra asking MLAs to vote against the 15-month-old Nath government during the trust vote.
Former MP chief minister and BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who had moved the Supreme Court along with nine other BJP MLAs against the Speaker's decision to adjourn the House, said truth has prevailed and Nath's government was on its way out.
"Truth has prevailed, attempts to lure away MLAs by all means proved futile," he said, describing it as a "defeat of plans" of Nath and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh.
"The government will not be able to clear the floor test. We have full faith this government will fall in the floor test. After that, the path will be cleared for the formation of a new government in the state," said Chouhan.
Welcoming the ruling, MP Leader of Opposition Gopal Bhargava said everything would become clear on Friday.
Congress leader Jitu Patwari, meanwhile, said his party was "always ready for the floor test".
"The chief minister has said it himself. It was necessary the MLAs who were kidnapped be present here. Assembly is bound to obey the Supreme Court's order. We are sure and ready," he said.
Responding to the demand made by the assembly speaker, who had demanded a time of two weeks to decide on the issue of floor test, Justice Chandrachud said, "Weeks are gold mines for horse-trading. It is why the court has been proactive in ordering the floor tests. The idea is to force the hands and make sure the floor test happens as soon as possible and prevent such things."
Over the past two days, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Speaker NP Prajapati, and Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of Chief Minister Kamal Nath, had argued against immediate floor-test.
Singhvi had argued that since the ruling government in Madhya Pradesh was not a newly installed government, the only provision to verify the majority of the state government was to bring in the no-confidence motion.
Sibal had argued that the 16 rebel MLAs had resigned from the Assembly but had not quit the party and were still members of the Congress.
The two had argued that only the speaker had the power to decide on the fate of the assembly. While Mukul Rohatgi, appearing on behalf of the BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had claimed that any delay would heighten the possibility of horse-trading.
Speaking to News18 earlier in the day, Nath had claimed that he was in touch with "most of the 'rebel' MLAs". He said that after "these MLAS released these messages," referring to video messages released by some of the 'rebel' MLAs, "they called me to say that they have been forced to record those videos... that is why I'm confident about my numbers."
Just before Supreme Court announced its decision, senior Congress leader and member of the Upper House of Parliament, had written an emotional letter to the rebels, asking them to return to the party, to not quit without meeting the interim president of the party, Sonia Gandhi, and to forgive him, i.e. Digvijay Singh, for any inadvertent mistake.
A total of 22 Congress MLAs, including six ministers, had resigned last week putting the government on the brink of collapse. Of them the speaker had accepted resignations of 6 MLAs who were considered close to Jyotiraditya Scindia who recently switched over from Congress to the BJP.
(With inputs from PTI)