In a few hours from now, the Karnataka political potboiler will witness the crucial floor test when the new Assembly convenes to vote a new government to power. After the Supreme Court ordered a floor test on Saturday at 4 pm in the Karnataka Assembly, a litmus test for BS Yeddyurappa to prove his majority, the court also passed few directives that should be followed at the time of trust vote. The court said that a pro-tem Speaker should be appointed and he should administer the oath of office and secrecy to all MLAs before the trust vote. Crucially, the court said that the floor test will also be held under the supervision of the pro-tem Speaker, adding that he will decide the mode of test.
The Supreme Court order was passed by the three judges bench comprising Justices AK Sikri, SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan on a petition filed by the Congress-JD(S) against Governor Vajubhai Vala’s invitation to the BJP. In its order, The apex court also made it clear that there shall be no secret ballot and restrained the Governor from nominating one representative from the Anglo-Indian community to the House before the floor test. Besides, it said that the government should not take any major policy decisions before the results of the floor test come.
But in a major turn of events, the Governor appointed KG Bopaiah as the pro-tem Speaker, leaving the Congress furious. Bopaiah (61) is a BJP MLA and an old RSS hand. The Congress accused the Governor of behaving like a BJP agent. Bopaiah’s appointment came hours after the legislature secretariat recommended eight times MLA RV Deshpandey to the pro-tem Speaker post. He is a Congress MLA from Haliyal constituency. Deshpandey is 71 years old. After the Supreme Court’s order, the Congress argued that usually the senior-most leader is appointed as the pro-tem Speaker. In the present assembly which is yet to meet, Deshpandey of Congress is the senior-most.
Speaking to The FinancialExpress.com, former Supreme Court Judge and former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde said that usually the senior-most member of the House is appointed the pro-tem Speaker. He said that perhaps this will be the first time when a pro-tem Speaker will supervise a floor test. According to him, the role of the pro-tem Speaker is to preside over the first meeting of the House and administer the oath to a new lawmaker and enable the House to elect its permanent Speaker. “The pro-tem speaker is appointed when the House meets for the first time. Usually, the senior-most is chosen as the pro-tem speaker. He will continue until the Speaker is appointed,” he said. He said that if the BJP clears the floor test tomorrow, the BJP will government will appoint the Speaker and the normal proceedings will begin.
But unlike previous precedents, this time, the pro-tem Speaker after administering the oath to MLAs, will not vacate the chair and shall continue to supervise the floor test. Generally, the pro-tem Speaker’s role ends after the election of a full-time Speaker. But here, the Supreme Court has ordered that the floor test will be held under the supervision of the pro-tem Speaker. Though the office of the pro-tem is temporary and lasts only for a few days, it holds immense significance.
It is for this reason that both the Congress and the BJP are up in arms over the appointment to this post. Since the Chair holds the power to invoke the anti-defection law, the Congress and JD(S) are fearing that few of its MLAs may defy the party directives. In such a situation, the proceedings against such MLAs will begin in the chamber of the Speaker who has discretionary power in dealing with the complaints under the anti-defection law.
Such is the significance of the pro-tem Sepaker that in the outgoing Assembly, Speaker KB Koliwad had not initiated action against seven of the JD(S) MLAs who had voted in favour of the Congress at the time of Rajya Sabha polls. Meanwhile, the BJP has been flexing its muscle to gain the support of eight MLAs from the opposition faction or to narrow the gap by making some of the MLAs abstain from the House at the time of the trust vote. Speaking to The FinancialExpress.com, Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap had earlier said that the strength of MLAs present at the time of floor test inside the Assembly would determine the division of votes. “The voting requirement is of those present at the time of voting, not the total members. If there are some members who defy their party directives, then the disqualification proceedings starts in the Speaker’s chamber. At that time, the government will survive. There have been cases when these proceedings have continuesd for 2.5 years or more,” he had said.
The pro-tem speaker is also the one who presides over the first meeting of the MLAs in the Assembly. According to ‘Indian Polity’ by M Laxmikanth, as provided by the Constitution, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha vacates his office immediately before the meeting of the new House. The President appoints a member from the new House as the pro-tem Speaker who is responsible for administering oath to other lawmakers. The President himself administers the oath to the pro-tem Speaker. After administering the oath of office and secrecy to the new lawmakers, the pro-tem Speaker’s duty is to enable the House to elect the new Speaker. When the regular Speaker is elected, the office of the pro-tem Speaker is ceased.
The Congress has 78 MLAs and JD(S)+ has 38. Together, they have 116 MLAs, four more than the magic figure. If the pro-tem Speaker decides for voting on the floor, Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) will be allowed to cast vote only once. He is MLA from Channapatna and Ramanagara seats. The total number of the coalition now stands at 115. The BJP has claimed it enjoys the support of eight Congress and two JD(S) MLAs. The BJP has 104 lawmakers. If 10 MLAs belonging to the opposition coalition vote in favour of Yeddyurappa on Saturday, the BJP government will survive.