By Harihar Swarup
The Karnataka imbroglio has defied all solutions. How can this complex problem be sorted out? Even courts can impose their writ to a certain extent only because Legislature is supposed to be supreme. The only solution appears to be to dismiss the Karnataka government altogether, keep it under President’s rule and hold elections after the mandatory period is completed. Alternatively, the assembly can be kept under suspended animation and attempt be made, say after six months, to form the government. The latter solution doesn’t appear feasible and the present situation is unlikely to change is six months. The Governor Vajubhai Vale has already given an indication to that the state may be brought under the Centre’s rule.
Apparently, the BJP is responsible for the present mess because the party tried to topple an Opposition coalition by luring 15 of its Congress-JD(S) MLAs by various means of allurements, including ministerial berths. It is difficult to get evidence but huge amount of money has also allegedly exchanged hands; the rebel MLSs were flown to Mumbai where they were confined in a luxury resort — the details of payment of which remain wrapped in mystery. After Karnataka experience, one hopes, the BJP will desist from making Karnataka type of experiments in Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
According to latest reports there were three adjournments, acrimony and repeated disruptions by slogan shouting members before the proceedings were adjourned for the day. This triggered the governor’s second letter to the Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy with a copy to the Speaker. Vale said he was compelled to intervene after the confidence motion moved by CM Kumaraswamy was stalled and the assembly was adjourned without any finality.
The first of the governor’s message was read out to the house by the Speaker amid opposition from the treasury benches. The ruling coalition tried its best to defer the trust vote indefinitely with Congress Legislature Party leader Siddharamaiah and his senior party colleagues seeking clarity on the Supreme Court’s ruling that rebel MLAs could not be compelled to attend the house proceedings.
A showdown is expected between government and Raj Bhavan following the Governor’s intervention, and the matter is likely to land in court as there are diverse views on governor’s rule in such matters.
Supreme Court’s interim order on the Karnataka imbroglio may have come as a respite for the 15 Congress-JD(S) rebel MLAs and the BJP ahead of yesterday’s trust vote which could not take place. The order reiterates the Speaker’s powers to decide on the resignation submitted without specifying any timeframe. However, the Supreme Court also ruled that the rebels could not be compelled to participate in the ongoing Assembly session. In effect, the scales just tipped against mandating that the rebels participate in the trust motion and ensuring that some of them vote for the government.
Karnataka Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao has complained that the verdict “encroaches upon the rights of the Legislature”, defangs the power to issue whips and undermines anti-defection law. If 15 rebels don’t vote, Congress-JD(S) will be reduced to a minority. A ruling party or an opposition cannot be deprived of issuing whip. Presuming even after apex court’s verdict the ruling coalition issues another whip, it will be as binding as early one and the Supreme Court has no power to annul it.
Even if the Speaker chooses to disqualify rebel MLAs for anti-party activity in the event of government falling, it will not impede BJP’s claim to form the government. At best disqualification will prevent the rebels from immediately joining newly formed BJP government and forced them to bide their time till they win election in bye polls. Congress-JD(S) has proceeded on the premise that the rebels prefer resignation and want to avert disqualification because they have been promised ministerial berths by the BJP.
But Congress-JD(S) attempts to mollify them by offering ministerial portfolios haven’t helped. The rebel response indicates that the alliance is tottering. Even the daunting prospect of by-polls and uncertainty of how the electorate will respond to turncoats haven’t deterred them. Congress-JD(S) appeasement efforts can be expected to continue up to the conduct of trust motion, which explains why not a single rebel MLA is yet to lose house membership by disqualification and resignation.
Even if BJP manages to oust Kumaraswamy and form a government, the by-polls will become crucial. Supreme Court’s attempt to strike a “constitutional balance” will raise the hackles of the opposition parties, who are demanding a stronger anti-defection law. The unending Karnataka imbroglio is unfortunate; voters will rue their decision to not give a mandate to a single party. Even judiciary has limitations in resolving deceitful machinations that hung verdicts give rise to. (IPA Service)