SC’s Order A Big Blow to Karnataka Coalition Government

KOLKATA, INDIA - JULY 11: A West Bengal Pradesh Youth Congress member holds up a placard during a Raj Bhavan Gherao protest against alleged horse trading by the BJP in Karnataka, in front of Raj Bhavan on July 11, 2019 in Kolkata, India. (Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Wednesday’s Supreme Court order is a big blow to the HD Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-Congress coalition government on two grounds– one, the 15 rebel MLAs cannot be forced to attend the on-going Assembly session which will take up the CM’s trust vote; and secondly, the whip issued by the parties would not be operative on them.

This means that the epitaph of the wobbling Kumaraswamy government might as well be written in advance. When the Assembly meets tomorrow, the 15 MLAs would, in all likelihood, stay away, bringing down the strength of the House down to 209, including the Speaker. The halfway mark would be 104. The BJP has 105 MLAs on its side and the support of two independents. That would make it 107. The coalition will have just 100 – 66 of Congress and 34 of the JD(S).

If the numbers hold tomorrow, the 14-month old Kumaraswamy government will collapse– just as previous coalition governments in the state have.

But the numbers in the House will reduce only when the resignations are accepted by the Speaker or if the rebels are disqualified. Even in that case, the Kumaraswamy government will not have the numbers if the rebel MLAs stay away when the voting comes up.

The second part of the verdict is a big relief for the rebel MLAs as the whip issued by the Congress and the JD(S) would not be operative for tomorrow. That means that they will not face disqualification. The issue of disqualification is not likely to crop up at all as the government would have collapsed by then.

It is here that the Speaker can play a crucial role. Can Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar decide on the resignations of the rebel MLAs before the trust vote? Technically, he can, because the apex court has left the time to him. The question is what happens if he disqualifies the rebel MLAs. He will have to show sufficient reason for that, since disobeying the whip can’t be a reason to disqualify them.

The top court had restrained the Speaker from taking any decision till July 16 on the resignation and disqualification of the rebel MLAs. Since the date has passed, he can take a decision on the rebel MLAs at any time.

The coalition government could use the threat of disqualification to put fear into the rebel MLAs. But the rebel lawmakers are in no mood to listen, as they know that the Speaker’s decision can be challenged. This is why the Supreme Court said that the position and powers of the Speaker after the enactment of the anti-defection law in 1985 may require a re-examination.

Chief Minister Kumaraswamy now has two options– resign immediately or go ahead with the trust vote that he has requested. He would most likely to opt for the second, just as his rival and BJP state unit chief BS Yeddyurappa had done a year ago.

In May 2018, Yeddyurappa had to resign after holding office for 48 hours after the Supreme Court ordered a floor test. But he faced the trust vote telling the present CM: "Dear Kumaraswamy, I am a fighter and I will fight till my last breath". Probably on Thursday, it will be Kumaraswamy's turn to repeat the very same words to Yeddyurappa.

The 2018 trust vote was ordered by the Supreme Court on a petition by the Congress and JD(S) challenging governor Vajubhai Vala's decision inviting Yeddyurappa to form the government and prove his majority in 15 days after the election results were announced. The apex court cut the number of days to just one.

This time, the Supreme Court has forced the Speaker to order a trust vote once again, except that there will be a role reversal in the Assembly.

Kumaraswamy, like Yeddyurappa, will go down fighting, trying to expose the BJP’s game of winning over the rebel MLAs. And, knowing Kumaraswamy, it is likely to be anger-packed with emotionally wrapped words to sting the saffron party.