In what could become a small but significant setback to the rebel Congress and JD(S) MLAs in Karnataka, Speaker Ramesh Kumar has said that all parties may be allowed to apply their ‘whip’ in the House during Chief Minister Kumaraswamy’s trust vote. A debate on the issue is currently underway in the House. If he allows the whip to be applied, it would mean that the rebel MLAs can be disqualified for not attending the session, despite the Supreme Court order. And if they are disqualified, they cannot become ministers until they win another election. Ministry posts are believed to be among the promises made by the BJP to allegedly make these MLAs defect.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court said that all rebel MLAs have the choice of attending or not attending the Assembly. However, former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Thursday insisted that whip will be applied on all MLAs of the party. Siddaramaiah, who is the leader of the Congress Legislature Party said he is not a respondent in the Supreme Court case which was filed by the 15 rebel MLAs, and hence he can go ahead to issue a whip. He made this point by moving a “Point of Order” (Rule 350 of Karnataka Assembly Rules of Procedure).
"Anti-defection law has not been struck down by the Parliament or by any court of law," said Siddaramaiah, referring to the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
To this, Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar accepted Siddaramaiah’s contention. He further said, “If a member wants to stay away from proceedings of House, they need to write to me (Speaker). Depending on whether I accept or not accept, leader of the party can exercise his rights under the Tenth Schedule.”
Clarifying later, he said, "I haven't made any decision on Point of Order yet. My difficulty is, they're (Congress) are not a respondent, but I am. I'm worried. I'm asking you to guide me."
“If you (Siddaramaiah) intend to implead yourself as one of the respondents before the Supreme Court for amending this, you are at liberty to do so,” he added.
However, the coalition still does not have the numbers. With the threat of disqualification looming large, the Congress is hoping that at least three MLAs will take back their resignation. With rebel MLA and senior leader Ramalinga Reddy returning to their fold, the Congress hopes that a few others will too.
A Point of Order is an issue with the rules of the House that the Speaker can take decisions on.
A 'whip' is an order issued by a political party to all their legislators to be present and voting as per the party's direction during a debate. If a legislator does not follow the 'whip', they can be disqualified.
Article 164 (1B) of the Constitution says that a member who has been disqualified cannot be made a minister till the expiry of his or her term, or until he or she is reelected.
This development comes just a day after the apex court led by a Chief Justice of India-Ranjan Gogoi bench allowed the 15 rebel MLAs of the ruling coalition in Karnataka to not participate in Thursday’s trust vote and gave them immunity from the whip. As part of its interim order, the SC made it clear that the 15 rebel MLAs cannot be compelled to participate in Assembly proceedings despite a whip order being issued by the Congress and JD(S).
Initially, 10 rebel MLAs had moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Speaker to accept their resignations without delay on July 11. The 10 MLAs in their plea had said Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar was delaying in approving their resignations and hence acting in a biased manner in light of the recent political crisis.
These 10 MLAs are Ramesh Jarkiholi (Gokak), Byrathi Basavaraj (KR Puram), ST Somashekhar (Yeshwanthpura), BC Patil (Hirekerur), Shivaram Hebbar (Yellapur), Prathapgouda Patil (Maski), Mahesh Kumathalli (Athani), K Gopalaiah (Mahalakshmi Layout), AH Vishwanath (Hunasuru) and Narayana Gowda (Krishanarajapete).
Then on Monday, five other MLAs had tagged on the same petition seeking a similar relief. Those five were Munirathna Naidu (RR Nagar), Roshan Baig (Shivajinagar), MTB Nagaraj (Hoskote), K Sudhakar (Chikkaballapura) and Anand Singh (Vijayanagara) who also levelled the same charges against the Speaker.
However, the SC in its Wednesday order have the Speaker the freedom to decide on their resignations and disqualifications as and when he wants.
Incidentally, it is not only these 15 MLAs who have skipped Thursday's proceedings. Congress MLAs Shrimanth Patil, Nagendra B, independent MLAs R Shankar, H Nagesh and BSP MLA N Mahesh were also missing. These takes the number of absentees to 20.