The Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Assembly and BJP strong man B S Yedyurappa has become Chief Minister yet again after the collapse of the fragile Congress-JD(S) coalition though BJP president Amit Shah was against the party forming another minority Government.
This follows the fall of HD Kumaraswamy Government after losing the trust vote as a result of the resignation of 12 Congress rebel MLAs, three from the JD(S) an independent. The trust vote has shown that the BJP, with a strength of 105 in a House of 224 but with an effective strength of only 208, has working majority, but not a full majority.
That was why the pragmatic Shah wanted to prefer to wait and watch till the Speaker takes a decision on 16 dissidents. Speaker Ramesh Kumar has already disqualified three of the rebel Congress MLAs and is planning to disqualify the remaining 13 rebels in the days to come. The Speaker’s action is constitutionally suspect and is bound to be challenged by disqualified MLAs, as has happened in Tamil Nadu.
The BJP initially counted on the support of two independents, taking its total to 107. However, the Speaker has disqualified one of them. Thus the Yeddiyurappa Government will have only a wafer thin majority. With the BJP already being accused having masterminded the whole drama by encouraging the discontented MLAs resign with offer of Ministership, Amit Shah preferred to wait till their fate was decided by the Speaker.
But Yeddiyurappa, a strong Lingayat leader who got the party 105 seats in the last Assembly elections 18 months ago was in a hurry. Immediately after the polls, he was given a chance to form a Government, but he resigned within two days before the trust vote was taken as he knew he did not have the numbers as the Congress-JD (S) post-poll coalition had 118. Amit Shah did not want a repeat of that episode which reflected badly on the party’s image.
Having orchestrated the whole drama in the last fortnight by flying 16 rebel MLAs to a Mumbai resort after submitted their resignations and ensured their absence when Kumaraswamy took the trust vote and thereby bringing down the Kumaraswamy Government, Yeddiyurappa was not ready to wait any longer.
When Yeddyutappa staked claim on Friday morning, the Governor was left with little choice but to invite him to form the Government and he immediately assumed office at 6.15 pm. Can a man be given a second chance to be Chief Minister during the term of the same Assembly that too within a short span of 18 months is open to debate. It may be unethical, but constitutionally it is a grey area as the trust vote has shown the BJP has a working majority. The Governor has to invite a man who he believes enjoys the confidence of the House. In short a working majority. Whether Yeddyuappa can provide a stable government is another matter..
The Speaker who took measured steps when the rebel MLAs resigned and then took refuge in Mumbai and coming only for a day to present him on the orders of the Supreme Court, has exceeded his brief by disqualifying them in a hurry after the trust, more so when they had already resigned from the MLA post.
He says he has gone by the Tamil Nadu precedent. Ironically, the Tamil Nadu Speaker P Dhanapal followed the earlier Karnataka parallel when nine BJP dissident MLAs petitioned the Governor, seeking removal Yeddiyurappa as Chief Minister following his indictment in a mining scandal.
The then Karnataka Speaker’s action in disqualifying them and then holding for a trust vote within six days and declaring Yeddyurappa winner was eventually declared null and void the Supreme Court. The apex court said the Speaker did not give adequate time to the rebels to present their case and thereby violated principles of natural justice.
The Tamil Nadu Speaker learnt right lessons from that episode. One if dissident MLAs meet the Governor for a change of Chief Minister, they can be disqualified. Two, sufficient notice should be given to the rebels. He followed that and disqualified 18 AIADMK legislators who backed rebel leader T T V Dinakaran and it was upheld by the High Court also. The present Karnataka Speaker Ramesh Kumar has disqualified these MLAs for defiance of whip by the Congress and the JD(S). And rightly so. But he did not give sufficient notice to these rebels though their actions may be self-evident. More so why they should be disqualified when they had already resigned their MLA posts?
Thirdly, the anti-defection law provides for a six months bar from seeking re-election. By barring the rebels from seeking re-election to the Assembly for the rest of the term , the Speaker has exceeded his powers. As the Assembly, has completed only 18 months, these rebel MLAs cannot contest by-elections in the foreseeable future. The Congress wanted the rebels disqualified to prevent them from being inducted into the Yeddyurappa Cabinet as promised to them when they quit. In two ways, the hurdle can be overcome. The MLAs can move court and get a stay. But a consequence of that will be that their seats will not be declared vacant till their case is disposed of as it has happened in Tamil Nadu. It means no by-elections.
Another way to get around the Speaker’s ruling is move a no-confidence motion against him and get him voted out of office Yeddiyurappa can continue as Chief Minister with working majority, as Edappadi K Palanisami in Tamil Nadu did till recently. The people of Karnataka will have a say only when these rebels are disqualified and elections are held to their seats, maybe in a year or so. Till then, uncertainty will continue.