The Election Commission’s decision to hold by-elections to 15 out of 17 seats which have fallen vacant following the disqualification of Congress and Janata Dal(S) by the Speaker has caught both the rebels and BJP Chief Minister Yediyurappa offguard.
The absence and resignation of the 17 MLAs led to the collapse of the Kumaraswamy-headed coalition government in July, helping Yediyurappa to come to power. He has only a working majority with 104 MLAs, plus the support of independent legislator H Nagesh. If the 15 seats get filled up through by-election, the half way mark go up. Yediyurappa has to win at least six of these seats to stay on .
The rebels have been caught offguard because the Supreme Court is yet to take up their petition challenging their disqualification by the then Assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar.
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 fixed the next hearing on Sept 23.
The State Election Commissioner on Saturday said the rebel MLAs will not be allowed to contest the by-polls. However, if the Supreme Court allows them to contest the by-elections, going by the Tamil Nadu parallel when 18 disqualified MLAs were allowed to contest, the Karnataka rebels will still have problems ahead . They can contest only as independents with the support of the BJP as these were all seats won by them on the ticket of Congress and the JD(S).
After the EC announced the dates on Saturday, a few of the disqualified lawmakers met Yediyurappa’s personal assistant, NR Santosh who masterminded the Operation Lotus.
The Congress and the JD(S) together have 98 seats. If they increase their tally after these by-elections, pressure will mount on Yediyurappa.
The Chief Minister held an emergency meeting of the BJP in Bengaluru after the poll announcement. He is likely to visit New Delhi to consult the BJP central leadership.