Why Karnataka speaker could use anti-defection law against rebel MLAs

Why Karnataka speaker could use anti-defection law against rebel MLAs
JD(S) MLAs leave a hotel in Bengaluru, Monday. Photo: PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak
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Political defections in Karnataka today are a continuation of the national malady that called for an anti-defection law in the country in 1984, says Karnataka Assembly Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar.

Karnataka has been in a political crisis for over a week after 14 rebel MLAs from the JD(S)-Congress combine resigned and two independent MLAs withdrew support to the coalition, reducing the government to a minority. But the coalition sure got a breather on Thursday as the speaker indicated that the mass resignations will now have to pass the anti-defection test.

The rebel MLAs, who petitioned the Supreme Court against the speaker, alleged delay in accepting the resignations to favour the ruling coalition. But on the eve of the Monsoon Session of the Karnataka legislature, the state witnessed the high drama.

Ten of the rebel MLAs equipped with the Supreme Court order flew in from Mumbai on a special flight to meet the speaker at his office. The MLAs submitted their resignations afresh in the prescribed format, as the earlier ones were held back citing flawed format. But all they got was only an audience with the speaker but no respite.

The rebels now face the risk of disqualification under the anti-defection law, as Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah had issued a whip to all members, making their presence in the House mandatory all through the session that begins on Friday (July 12) till July 26.

The rebels who flew back to Mumbai are in a fix. The MLAs who resigned are still the members of the Congress party as their resignations have not been accepted. And skipping the session or violating the whip might attract disqualification, argue Congress leaders. The Congress has sought disqualification of 10 rebel MLAs while exempting Ramalinga Reddy, M.T.B. Nagaraju and Dr K. Sudhakar.

The Karnataka stalemate continues as the speaker insists he is a stickler for rules. Kumar, who was upset at being targeted by the rebels and the critics, hit back, saying he was only going by the rulebook.

"Should MLAs go to the Supreme Court to meet me? Even the SC should have thought about it. Who stopped them from meeting me? Instead, they sat in Mumbai and went to Supreme Court and you accuse me of delay," said the speaker.

Recalling the sequence of events that led to the deadlock, Kumar said, "On July 6, I was in my chamber till 1.30pm. The MLAs came there at 2pm and didn't even take prior appointment. So, it's untrue that I ran away because they were coming. On Monday, I scrutinised the resignations based on Rule 202 of the Karnataka Assembly Rules and Procedures. Unfortunately, eight of the 12 letters were not according to the prescribed format. They were informed to submit the resignations in the right format. Now, I am obliged to look at whether the resignations are voluntary and genuine.”

"I am no astrologer to predict how long the scrutiny of the resignations takes. In fact, many states have these resignations and disqualification proceedings have taken years. I am going by the rulebook and have given them appointments to meet me in person," adds Kumar.

The speaker also hinted that he had every reason to believe it was not a case of resignation but defection.

"The MLAs don't communicate to me and rush to the governor. What can he do? Is it not misusing the noble functionary of the nation? They approached the Supreme Court, come here under police protection. I have to think over this all night and take a decision and see whether this is voluntary and genuine. They are flying in and out in special flights. They have the means to do it," he observed.

"I am delaying because I love this land. I am not acting in haste. My obligation is to the people of this state and Constitution of this republic," said the speaker, who also recalled how several governments had been felled by political defections in the country.

The speaker informed that the Supreme Court had asked him to take a decision. "I have videographed the entire procedure and I will send it to the Supreme Court," he said.

On the disqualification petition by the Congress against Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumathahalli, the speaker said, "If the member is disqualified, he cannot enter the House for the rest of the term of the House. So, to be fair, I cannot hurriedly decide on this. I am in a fix, I want to go by my conscience."

The BJP which is in a wait-and-watch mode is hoping the Supreme Court's hearing on Friday would help break the deadlock. The BJP leaders feel the speaker has dishonoured the Supreme Court direction by not taking a decision on the resignations. "The Speaker should have given a time limit within which he would make the decision. He has also misinterpreted the anti-defection law as he is equating it to resignations. Every legislator has the right to resign," said MLC N. Ravikumar.

(This story first appeared in The Week)

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