With Plea Pending in SC and Nine Days to File Nominations ahead of Karnataka By-polls, Future of Rebel MLAs Remains in Doubt
If the rebel MLAs get relief from the Supreme Court, it will mean a triangular battle among the BJP, Congress and JDS in the 17 constituencies in the state. If not, the BJP will have to face the rebels, along with the two opposition parties, as the disqualified MLAs will work against it
A file photo of the Karnataka rebel MLAs. (PTI)
Bengaluru: The rebels of the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular (JDS), who celebrated when the coalition government in Karnataka finally collapsed on July 23 after a protracted drama, now face a situation that has the possibility to jeopardise their political careers.
Even as the Supreme Court has delayed taking up the rebels’ plea pending before it, the Election Commission (EC) on Saturday announced the dates for Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, along with by-elections to 15 Karnataka Assembly constituencies. The single-phase polling in the two states as well as the bypolls to 64 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha constituency across 18 states will take place on October 21; the results will be counted three days later.
With the election dates announced, only nine days are left to file nominations for the by-elections, with September 30 being the last day.
The Supreme Court will take up the plea of the disqualified MLAs on September 23. After the EC announced the dates on Saturday, sources from the BJP said that a few of the disqualified lawmakers met Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s personal assistant, NR Santosh.
“In a closed-door meeting, disqualified MLAs Narayana Gowda and R Shankar pulled Santosh’s collar. They were furious and left red-faced because the BJP has not completed the promises it made,” said a source who did not want to be named.
The disqualified MLAs reportedly quizzed Santosh on the false promises made by the saffron party; he reportedly told them that things now are out of control. Santosh was among those who headed the alleged ‘Operation Lotus’ in the state and played a key role in toppling the HD Kumaraswamy-led government.
Yediuyurappa flew out to New Delhi on Saturday night to meet the party high command. According to sources, he may urge the senior leadership to intervene and convince the disqualified lawmakers. A meeting with BJP chief Amit Shah is on Yeddiyurappa’s schedule.
Around noon on Saturday, Yediyurappa called an emergency meeting with his close associates as the EC's decision to declare the election dates caught him off-guard. Yediyurappa is now in a situation where he is expected to fulfil the promises made by the BJP and also win more seats in order to keep alive his government.
However, the State Election Commissioner on Saturday said the rebel MLAs will not be allowed to contest the bypolls.
ST Somashekar, one of the disqualified MLAs, told reporters said their case was coming before the Supreme Court on Monday and they had met to discuss it and expressed confidence about getting a stay. "We have also consulted our advocates. We will have to see what the court decides on Monday," he said.
Asked if they were worried as the polling dates were announced ahead of their case coming up in court, Somashekar said, "Our advocates will try to get a stay on Monday and we are not worried."
"We will contest as candidates," he said, but did not specify if they would be contesting on BJP tickets.
K Sudhakar, another disqualified MLA, said their petition was pending before the apex court and expressed confidence of obtaining a stay on the election process.
The BJP has 104 MLAs and the support of Independent lawmaker H Nagesh. The Congress has 64 and the JDS 34. With the announcement for the by-polls for 15 disqualified seats, the magic number will be 111. The BJP has to win at least six seats out of the 15 going to polls to keep the government alive. But all these seats are considered to be strongholds of the Congress and the JDS – a common agitation against the rebel lawmakers is clearly visible among voters in their respective constituencies as they left just before the state was affected by floods.
The Congress and JDS together have 98 seats as of now; if they fight the elections separately and win all 15 seats, their numbers will go up to113 and they can stake claim to form the government, although it appears to be highly unlikely. If not, both parties can call for the dissolution of the government, claiming that the BJP has lost its majority.
The absence and resignation of the 17 MLAs during the trust vote had led to the collapse of the Kumaraswamy-headed coalition government in July, helping the BJP to come to power. The then Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar had disqualified the 17 lawmakers under the anti-defection law, which they have challenged in the Supreme Court.
Some of these disqualified MLAs have alleged in their pleas in the top court that Kumar’s decision, before his resignation as Speaker, was wholly illegal, arbitrary and mala fide exercise of his power under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. They have also questioned Kumar's decision to reject their resignations by holding that it was not voluntary and genuine.
The constituencies that will vote in the by-polls on October 21 are Ranebennur, Kagwad, Hirekerur, Yellapur, Yeshwanthpura, Vijayanagara, Shivajinagara, Hosakote, Hunsur, Krishnarajpet, Mahalakshmi Layout, KR Puram and Chikkaballapur. If the rebel MLAs get relief from the Supreme Court, it will mean a triangular battle among the BJP, Congress and JDS. If not, the BJP will have to face the rebels, along with the two opposition parties, as the disqualified MLAs will work against the saffron party.
Considering all these aspects, Yediyurappa has been trying to take control of the situation – he has already started talks with the rebels in order to convince them and has reportedly also sought help from the party high command to douse the fire. However, keeping in mind earlier verdicts, it appears highly impossible that the rebels will get what they want from the Supreme Court.
What are the possibilities?
All eyes are now on the Supreme Court and it is anybody’s guess how long it will take for arguments on both sides to conclude. Until the verdict, the Speaker’s order of disqualification will still stand. Kumar’s order clearly states that the disqualified MLAs cannot participate in the proceedings of the 15th Vidhan Sabha. Unless the Supreme Court stays the order or gives relief to the rebels in some form, they are prohibited from even contesting the by-polls.
If that is not a viable option for the top court, the disqualified MLAs can also prevail upon the court to at least nullify the part of the Speaker’s order forbidding them from contesting the by-polls till the expiry of the current assembly in 2023.
If the court upholds their petition, the disqualified members can contest the elections.
(With inputs from PTI)
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