As the Karnataka political crisis played out in the Supreme Court today, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy said that rebel lawmakers were “hunting in pack” to destabilize his government. The rebels argued that their resignations must be accepted by the Speaker, that they could not be “forced to attend the assembly”.
The court was hearing the case of 15 lawmakers of the Congress-Janata Dal Secular coalition whose resignations, if accepted, will leave the government in a minority. They have accused Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar of sitting on their resignations to buy time for the shaky coalition.
“The Speaker has to take notice of the fact that 15 MLAs (lawmakers) are hunting in pack…they went to the hotel together,” said senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Chief Minister.
“Every MLA who went to Mumbai wants to be a minister. It is a pack of 10 MLAs. It isn’t about the Speaker vs the Court but the Chief Minister vs somebody who wants to become Chief Minister,” he said, referring to the rebels who have been staying in Mumbai since they resigned on July 6.
He said the Speaker was bound to conduct an inquiry on whether the resignation letters were “genuine and voluntary”.
The Speaker requested the court to end status quo on any action against the lawmakers, asserting that he would decide on their resignation or disqualification by tomorrow.
The dissidents argued that the Speaker was implying coercion without proof.
“Is there any evidence of a gun being pointed at their temple,” questioned former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, representing the rebels.
“When I don’t want to attend the assembly, can I be forced to do so? The Speaker is coercing (us) to continue, to sit and speak in a particular group of which we don’t want to be a part of,” Mr Rohatgi said.
“This government is in a minority and that’s simple math.”
The rebels requested the Supreme Court to give the Speaker – whom they described as partisan – a time-frame to decide on the resignations. “The Speaker is being partisan. MLAs (legislators) are not bureaucrats or public servants…they don’t have to give reasons for their resignation,” the dissidents said.
Sixteen legislators of the JDS-Congress coalition and two independent lawmakers have resigned over the past two weeks.
If the resignations are accepted, the coalition’s 118 members will come down to 100 and the majority mark will drop from 113 to 105. The BJP has 105 members and the support of the two Independents, which would take its tally to 107.
The Speaker had told the court that many of the dissidents were facing disqualification.
If the lawmakers are disqualified, they must be re-elected and can’t become ministers. A resignation, on the other hand, allows lawmakers to become ministers easily if the BJP comes to power. They will have six months to seek re-election.
“Irrespective of disqualification proceedings against a lawmaker, if he wants to resign, he should be allowed to,” Mr Rohatgi said.
The Speaker, he asserted, could be directed to decide on the resignations by 2 pm and he could take a call on disqualification later.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Speaker, said the arguments were “factually wrong” and the exercise of “date or speed or the race between disqualification and resignation was incorrect.
The coalition has decided to take a floor test this Thursday, a move seen as a last-ditch attempt to save the teetering coalition that came to power last May after an election that gave no clear majority to any party.
Congress troubleshooter DK Shivakumar and other coalition leaders have been frantically trying to win back the rebels staying in a five-star hotel in Mumbai.
The BJP says the coalition government must resign because it has “lost its moral authority to rule.” The party has been accused by the Congress and the JDS of crafting the crisis to try and seize power in Karnataka, more than a year after it fell short of a majority in state polls.