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Is Karnataka's political crisis turning into a judiciary versus legislature tussle?

Karnataka political crisis: Supreme Court, however, ordered a status quo to be maintained by the speaker until July 16 with respect to resignations by the rebel MLAs and any disqualification proceedings against them.

Rukmini Rao   Bengaluru     Last Updated: July 13, 2019  | 09:08 IST
Is Karnataka's political crisis turning into a judiciary versus legislature tussle?
Karnataka political crisis: CM HD Kumaraswamy

Chief Minister of Karnataka HD Kumaraswamy boldly announced in the state assembly on the very first day of the monsoon session that his coalition government is willing to go ahead with a floor test within 14 days. He also said that his government can prove its majority even under prevailing circumstances. Even as 16 MLAs - including 10 who approached Supreme Court - asked the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly to accept their resignations, SC adjourned the case citing the requirement for substantial questions of law to be answered with respect to articles 190 and 361 of the Constitution.

Supreme Court, however, ordered a status quo to be maintained by the speaker until July 16 with respect to resignations by the rebel MLAs and any disqualification proceedings against them. With a substantial question of law of the Constitution being involved, Supreme Court will now be heard by a larger bench comprising at least five judges. Meanwhile, Speaker Ramesh Kumar asked the Chief Minister to give him a day's notice to include the floor test in the next day's proceedings of the legislative assembly. Political Pundits are seeing this as an engineered and calculated move by HD Kumarswamy to attain two objectives. One, to allow Congress time to put its house in order, and two to deny B S Yedyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party any chance of insisting on a floor test or seek the governor's intervention in the ongoing crisis. Both the Congress and JD(S) have issued whip to their respective party members to attend the monsoon session that started on July 12. The next turn of events in the ongoing political crisis in the state of Karnataka could, however, lead to a further tussle between the legislature and the judiciary.

Scenario 1:

If the floor test takes place before the Supreme Court and it could conclude and decide on the constitutional nuances in the said case, MLAs from both congress and JD(S) - in spite of a whip being in place - are likely to either abstain or be absent. In any of said instances, the tenth schedule comes to the rescue of parties, which stipulates that either JD(S) or Congress could seek disqualification of such MLAs. But even before that, the result of the floor test could decide the speaker's future itself. Alok Prasanna Kumar, Senior Resident Fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy says, "Suppose whips are issued and MLAs turn up and don't vote, and the government loses the confidence motion, it's entirely possible for remaining MLAs to change the speaker. They can move a motion of no-confidence against the present speaker and seek to change the speaker. Then, the question of disqualification by the present speaker does not arise." If the government loses confidence vote and BJP claims stake to form the government with required numbers, it's a given that there will be a new speaker under present circumstances.

Senario 2:

Congress and JDS may seek disqualification of their MLAs notwithstanding the outcome of the floor test on the basis of violation of whip. "If a disqualification petition is filed, the speaker can take his own time to decide and sit on it, exactly how it happened in Telangana and other states," added Kumar. One of the main contentions that rebel MLAs put forth in the Supreme Court was the possibility of a disqualification. So, with a whip in place, can rebel MLAs seek any legal course before the floor test? Perhaps yes, but the tenth schedule does give more control to a political party over its MLAs. Terms of how a political party can exercise its constitutional right cannot be dictated by the SC, argues former MLC V S Ugrappa of Congress. "Issuing a whip and seeking attendance and voting in favour of the party's stand is a right of every political party. Since there has been no change in position of law, even Supreme Court will have to follow the letter of the law," he said.

In an expected sequence of events - Supreme Court will first look into the question of law even before passing any directions to rebel MLAs. While the SC tests Articles 190 and 361 of the constitution, the moot point now clearly is whether the speaker has a power to entertain disqualification of MLAs on violation of whip when there is a SC order to maintain status quo. Will actions of the speaker amount to contempt if he moves ahead with disqualification of MLAs on violation of whip? However, this is clearly a window of opportunity for both congress and JD(S) to put their houses in order, if possible. BJP has already moved its MLAs to ensure no poaching happens before the floor test. With former chief minister Siddharamaiah supporting the floor test, the next few days could see an interesting set of events not only on the political front but also on the legal front in the Supreme court.

Also read: Karnataka political crisis: Assembly speaker should take quick decision on resignation of MLAs, says BJP

Also read: Karnataka crisis: BJP stages dharna at Vidhan Soudha, demands CM's resignation

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