The BJP government has made its determination to push through the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, otherwise known as the anti-conversion Bill through both the Houses — the Karnataka Assembly and the Council — in this very session. But while the BJP passed the Bill comfortably in the Assembly, where it has the required numbers, in the Legislative Council, they do not have the majority to get the Bill passed. So what happens if the Bill is not passed in the Council?
Before we proceed, this is where the numbers stand. In the Assembly, which has a total strength of 224, the ruling BJP has 121 members in addition to an independent MLA supporting the government; the Congress has 69 members, an independent MLA; and JD(S) has 32 MLAs. In the Council meanwhile, where the total strength is 75, BJP has 26 members; the Congress has 29 members; JD(S) has 11; and there are five independent members. There are currently three seats vacant.
If the Bill is defeated in the Legislative Council, then the government has other options, given the limited powers that the Council has. “Legislative councils in states are not as powerful as Rajya Sabha,” Chakshu Roy, Head of Legislative and Civic Engagement, PRS Legislative Research, explains. “As second chambers in states, they can only delay legislation but don’t have the authority to make any changes to it. In the end, it is the popularly elected Vidhana Sabha that will prevail and have the final say on a Bill. This position has been hard-coded in Article 197 of our Constitution,” he adds.
YSV Datta, senior JD(S) leader and former MLC, says that his party should not walk out when the Bill is presented for a vote in the Legislative Council. “Our stand should be expressed very strongly in the Legislative Council. We should stay back and vote against it. This is the only way to make our stand clear and also send across a message,” he says. Datta reiterates that even if the Bill is defeated, the government can push it through in the Assembly in this session. “The Bill can be brought back to the Assembly immediately. What the Speaker can do is not adjourn the Assembly sine die and keep that decision pending. So it can be brought back in the Assembly on Friday and passed once again. There is no need to have it passed in the Council again,” Datta tells TNM.
Political scientist and author Professor Sandeep Shastri differs on what the next procedure is. “This provision is applicable only for a money bill. Since this is a non-money Bill, according to my understanding, the Assembly has to pass it again within three months, after which it needs to be passed by the Council too,” he says.
“The Bill cannot be passed only in the Assembly, it has to come to the Upper House. But if it is defeated in the Council, it can be passed with just the consent of the Lower House,” says Ganesh Karnik, former Chief Whip for the BJP in Karnataka Legislative Council.
A source in the BJP says that the Bill might not be tabled in the Council unless the support of the JD(S) comes through. Since the Bill is already passed in the Assembly, the government might not introduce it in the Council.
On Thursday, amidst a war of words between the Congress and the BJP in the Karnataka Assembly, the Bill was passed through a voice vote.