July 29, 2019
Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar on Sunday relieved Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa of a major headache by disqualifying remaining 14 rebel Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs. This was evident in Karnataka Assembly today as Yediyurappa government won confidence motion by voice vote.
Karnataka Assembly is a 225-member house including one nominated anglo-Indian MLA. Speaker Ramesh Kumar has disqualified 17 of them. The total strength of Karnataka Assembly came down to 207 (Speaker excluded). Speaker can vote only in the case of a tie.
This brought down the effective majority mark in Karnataka Assembly to 104. The BJP has 105 MLAs of its own and declared support of one Independent MLA, who was till recently a minister in HD Kumaraswamy government.
Rebellion of the 18 coalition MLAs — including the Independent — brought down the Kumaraswamy government bringing Yediyurappa as the chief minister for the fourth time at 76.
At the same time, the rebel MLAs were a big headache for him as he was, reportedly, under pressure to accommodate most of them in his council of ministers. This challenge is said to have forced him to take oath alone on Friday.
Yediyurappa, BJP only beneficiaries
The rebel MLAs were disqualified despite their best efforts to compel the Speaker to accept their resignations. They had submitted their resignations to the Speaker citing differences over functioning of the Congress-JDS coalition and the Kumaraswamy government.
They insisted on acceptance of their resignations. The moved the Supreme Court seeking a directive to the Speaker. But efforts went in vain.
Now, Yediyurappa is not under any compulsion to accommodate them anywhere in the government at least for six months when by-election would be held for 17 assembly seats. If their disqualification stands for the full term of the current Karnataka Assembly, Yediyurappa need not worry about them at all.
The Election Commission is bound to fill the vacancies in Karnataka Assembly in six months. Yediyurappa and the BJP will need to win only eight out of 17 assembly seats to keep enjoying majority in the house. This will take the BJP’s tally to 113 – over the half-way mark in the full strength assembly.
But there is a catch
Disqualification under anti-defection law, as the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution is known, bars MLAs punished for defection from occupying an elected office. The law does not prescribe a period of time for disqualification leaving it to interpretation by the Speaker and review by the Election Commission and the courts.
Speaker Ramesh Kumar has disqualified the rebel MLAs for the remainder of the current Karnataka Assembly. This ruling makes all 17 rebel MLAs ineligible to become ministers till 2023 or when next assembly election is held in Karnataka.
The rebel MLAs hope to get the Speaker’s ruling quashed in the Supreme Court, which is seized with their petitions. The disqualified MLAs may, however, get an early reprieve from the Election Commission.
In a similar case of defection in Tamil Nadu following J Jayalalithaa’s death, 18 MLAs of the ruling AIADMK were disqualified over allegiance to rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran. The Election Commission last year ruled that the rebel MLAs could contest by-election necessitated by their disqualification.
Then Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat had said defection disqualifies the MLAs from holding the current elected office and not from contesting elections in future.
The by-polls were held in April this year simultaneous with the Lok Sabha election and 14 of the disqualified MLs contested the assembly by-polls.
If the Election Commission overrules Speaker’s decision to disqualify the rebel MLAs for entire tenure of the current assembly, they will eligible for contesting polls like their Tamil Nadu counterparts. They will again be pushing for “reward” from Yediyurappa and the BJP.
A dampener for them, however, would be the fact that only one of the disqualified MLAs had won by-election in Tamil Nadu.
Even if the disqualified MLAs get relief from the Election Commission or the Supreme Court, and join the BJP, the party might deny them tickets citing Tamil Nadu example. Yediyurappa, by then, will have settled in the saddle.