Bengaluru: Karnataka Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar jolted the political scenario in the State on a Sunday morning when he hurriedly called a press conference to announce the disqualification of 14 rebel MLAs – 11 from the Congress and three from the JD(S) – just a day ahead of the Trust vote by Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa.
In doing so, Kumar almost held the recent Supreme Court interim order unconstitutional and the Election Commission ruling on right of disqualified MLAs to contest the very next election as invalid, though in not so many words. And his hurry was understandable as the BJP is planning to vote him out of office. He did not want to hand over the rebel MLAs to the waiting hands of a BJP nominated Speaker.
Ramesh Kumar cited three reasons for disqualifying the 14 MLAs – they did not participate in the Assembly session, anti-party activities because they were asked by their legislative party leaders to do so and thirdly, their moves had led to the downfall of a duly elected government.
Kumar was careful in not using the words ‘defying the whip’ because the Supreme Court was silent on the issue. But the court had clearly said that the rebel MLAs cannot be forced to attend the Assembly session. On this ground alone, the Supreme Court is likely to hold the Speaker in contempt and quash the order.
With today’s disqualifications, the strength of the House nose-dived to 208, and the majority mark to 105. The BJP now has 105 plus one Independent, making life easy for BJP’s old warhorse Yediyurappa to gallop through Monday’s trust vote.
Earlier last week, the Speaker had disqualified three rebels Congress MLAs under the anti-defection law for anti-party activities. Hence the total number of MLAs disqualified is 17.
Hours after the 14 rebel lawmakers were disqualified, JD(S) legislator and former party president A H Vishwanath said he would approach the Supreme Court against the Speaker’s decision.
“The disqualification is against the law…just under a whip served on them, you cannot force the legislators to come to the House. The speaker has disqualified 20 members of the legislature on the grounds that they have not attended the House…so against this decision pronounced by the Speaker, we are approaching the Supreme Court on Monday,” the lawmaker said.
Justifying his stand, the Speaker said he decided to disqualify the 14 rebel MLAs for the entire term of current Assembly. This means the disqualified MLAs will not be able to fight elections until the 15th Assembly completes its tenure. “I have used my judicial conscience,” said Kumar, hinting that he has not gone by the earlier Supreme Court rulings or the recent Election Commission clarification in the Tamil Nadu case where 18 disqualified MLAs were allowed the contest the very next by-poll.
In what many saw as a deliberately harsh ruling, the Speaker said the disqualification under the tenth schedule of the Constitution means the MLAs will be stripped of their status as legislators and not be able to contest an election during the remaining 46-month term of the current Assembly.
In other words, the Speaker was guided by the Congress stand that the rebel MLAs torpedoed the HD Kumaraswamy-headed coalition government, so sink with us to the bottom.
This was made clear in the reaction of Congress legislative party leader and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah who said “The people’s court will also punish these lawmakers for betraying their parties and their people by joining hands with the BJP to bring down the alliance government.”
But the BJP slammed the Speaker’s decision as a black mark on the State Assembly.
Yediyurappa refused to comment on the Speaker but said he is 100 per cent sure he will prove his majority. “On Monday hundred per cent I will prove the majority,” he told reporters in Bengaluru. He has called for a meeting of the BJP legislature party on Monday morning ahead of the 10 am Assembly session, just to make sure all are present.
The CM said after proving his majority in the Assembly, his government will first take up the Finance Bill. “The finance bill (appropriation bill) needs to be passed ‘urgently’, as otherwise, we will not be able to draw funds even to pay salaries. I have not even changed a comma or full stop in it. I will be tabling the finance bill prepared by the (previous) Congress-JD(S) government,” Yediyurappa added.
After simmering for months, the political crisis in Karnataka exploded after 16 MLAs Congress-JD(S) tendered their resignations to the Speaker. The mass resignations led to the collapse of 14 months-old Kumaraswamy-led government. Many of the MLAs were allegedly convinced and coaxed to resign by BJP with the assurance that they would not face disqualification. The BJP staked claim to power after the ruling Congress-JDS coalition government failed the trust vote last week.
Monday will be an action-packed day in Karnataka Assembly.
The disqualified MLAs are: Congress — Prathapgouda Patil (Maski, Raichur); B C Patil (Hirekerur, Haveri); Shivaram Hebbar (Yellapur, Uttara Kannada); S T Somashekhar (Yeshwanthpura, Bengaluru); Byrathi Basavaraj (KR Pura, Bengaluru); S. Anand Singh (Vijaynagara, Ballari; R Roshan Baig (Shivajinagar, Bengaluru); N Munirathna (Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Bengaluru); K Sudhakar (Chikkaballapura); M T B Nagaraj (Hosakote); Shrimant Patil (Kagwad,Belgaum)
JD(S): A H Vishwanath (Hunsuru, Mysore); KC Narayana Gowda, (Krishnarajpet, Hassan) and K Gopalaiah (Mahalakshmi Layout, Bengaluru).