Karnataka crisis: Congress has one more day to save Kumaraswamy government
The HD Kumaraswamy government of Karnataka is hanging by a thread provided by the Supreme Court that has ordered a status quo till Tuesday. This is also the deadline for the Congress to bring its house in order and try to win over rebel MLAs and rescue the coalition government in Karnataka.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Friday restrained Speaker Ramesh Kumar from taking decision "neither [on] the issue of resignation nor the issue of disqualification [of the rebel MLAs]" till July 16, when it will hear the matter further.
The bench said, "This order has been passed by this court only to enable the court to decide the larger constitutional questions arising as indicated above." But politically, the order gave the Congress a breathing space for four days - a much needed time to counter alleged poaching by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Congress appeared to have breached the solidarity of the rebel MLAs over the weekend with MTB Nagraj signalling a change of heart on Saturday. But he was back in the rebel fold on Sunday. He flew from Bengaluru to Mumbai to join the other rebels staying at Renaissance Hotel.
Interestingly, BJP leader and former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa's close aide NR Santosh was spotted with Nagraj at the Bengaluru airport. Santosh is said to be the link between the rebel MLAs and the BJP leadership in Karnataka.
Once back in Mumbai, Nagraj said he would not change his mind about resigning from the Karnataka assembly. He is among the 14 rebel MLAs, who have written to Mumbai police seeking protection from Congress leaders.
The letter to Mumbai police says that the MLAs face "threat from a few Congress leaders" and names senior central party leaders such as Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad. Kharge and Azad are likely to approach the rebel MLAs in their bid to mollify them and persuade them to return to the party fold.
But in their letter to Mumbai police, the rebel MLAs have said that Congress leaders including Kharge and Azad, and those from Karnataka and Maharashtra should be stopped "from meeting us in case the situation arises".
This comes after a similar attempt by DK Shivakumar, the Congress's troubleshooter in Karnataka, failed last week. Shivakumar had dashed off to Mumbai's Sofitel hotel, where the rebel MLAs were initially staying hoping to strike a deal with them. All the ministers in the Kumaraswamy cabinet had earlier resigned to accommodate the rebel group.
But the rebel MLAs refused to meet and reached out to Mumbai police, who stopped Shivakumar from entering the hotel. After Shivakumar refused to leave and sat on a dharna, he was detained and virtually packed off to Bengaluru.
Two BJP functionaries -- Prasad Lad, the Maharashtra MLC and NR Santosh -- were also seen at the Sofitel hotel when the drama unfolded last week.
Now, time is running out for the Congress. Speaker Ramesh Kumar has, however, said he is not obliged under the Constitution to dispose of the resignation matter in a time-bound manner but with the dissident MLAs refusing to budge and the Supreme Court seized with the matter, it would be untenable for him to delay his decision any further after Tuesday.
Meanwhile, five more MLAs have moved the Supreme Court against Speaker Ramesh Kumar over non-acceptance of their resignation letters. Ten had moved the court last week.
The CJI Gogoi-led bench today agreed to hear their plea together with the pending petition on Tuesday, by when the Congress has time to bring back its disgruntled MLAs to gain majority in Karnataka assembly, where the BJP has been pushing for a floor test.
Going by numbers, the ruling Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition has 117 MLAs - Congress 78, JDS 37 and Bahujan Samaj Party 1 - in 225-member Karnataka assembly. One member is nominated. A total of 16 MLAs have resigned - 13 from the Congress and three from the JDS.
If their resignations are accepted, the strength of the ruling coalition will come down to 101 but this includes Speaker Ramesh Kumar who can vote in a floor test only if it ends in a tie.
The strength of Karnataka Assembly after resignations are accepted would reduce to 209 and the majority mark would then be 105. The BJP has 105 MLAs and declared support of two other MLAs taking its effective strength to 107.
The JDS-Congress government of Kumaraswamy is on the brink of collapse in Karnataka.