The Speaker has some constitutional powers — he can reject or accept or disqualify — that he can exercise while considering the resignations. But what will he do? Here are some options and their implications.
Karnataka crisis: The Supreme Court on Thursday threw the ball back into Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s court by asking him to take a decision on the resignations of 10 rebel MLAs from Congress and JD(S) which threw the ruling coalition in the southern state into a crisis. The 10 rebel legislators will appear before the Speaker by 6 pm, the top court said, adding that the Speaker will have to decide on the matter without any delay and apprise it of the same. The apex court’s order came as a setback for the Congress-JD(S) coalition which is hanging by a thread. Now the fate of the coalition — if the rebel MLAs stick to their decisions — will be decided by the Speaker’s office. A last-ditch attempt on behalf of the Speaker to seek more time for a decision was also turned down by the Supreme Court.
Sensing danger to the government, senior Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and Dinesh Gundu Rao filed an application with the Speaker seeking disqualification of the rebel legislators. But can the Speaker move ahead on the disqualification application at a time when the case is before the top court? The Speaker has some constitutional powers — he can reject or accept or disqualify — that he can exercise while considering the resignations.
But what will he do? Here are some options and their implications.
If Speaker accepts the resignations
Speaker KR Ramesh had rejected the resignations on the ground that they were not in the correct format. So, if all 10 rebel MLAs hand over their resignations in person in the prescribed format, it is highly likely that Speaker will accept them. But if the resignations are accepted, the coalition in the state will become a minority government and Kumaraswamy will have to resign. Currently, the strength of the coalition in the House is 117 (Congress-79 and JDS-97) which will come down to 102 once all the resignations are accepted. This will pave way for the BJP, which has 105 MLAs in the 224-member House, to stake claim to form the next government when the Assembly opens for the Monsoon Session on Friday.
Can speaker reject the resignations?
Yes, the Speaker can reject the resignations on grounds that he is not satisfied if it is voluntary or genuine. But in this case, the Speaker may not be able to justify such a move for two reasons — first, he on the first occasion did not say that the resignations were not genuine or voluntary and instead rejected them for a technical reason. Second, when the legislators hand over the written resignations in person, it becomes difficult for anyone to believe that they were not doing it on their own. The Supreme Court has also asked the Speaker to pass an order which will be placed before it on Friday. If the Speaker decides to reject the resignations then he will have to give reasons that are reasonable and legally admissible in the court.
Will Speaker disqualify rebel MLAs?
Another option before the Speaker is to disqualify a member of the House on the ground that he or she did not obey the party directives or indulged in anti-party activities. The action can be initiated under the Anti-Defection Law. But for this, the Speaker needs to receive a petition against the lawmaker against whom the action is sought. In this case, former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has already moved a petition seeking the disqualification of 10 rebel MLAs. But to act on the disqualification application, the Speaker has to give a proper hearing to all sides. The power to disqualify a member rests with the Speaker but is subject to judicial review. So if the Speaker decides to disqualify the legislators, his decision can and will be challenged in the apex court.
Why Speaker needs to act fast
The Karnataka Assembly session is scheduled to commence from Friday (July 12). The Budget is scheduled to be passed in this session. However, the government is in complete disarray and it appears that the coalition (which is in minority) will not be able to conduct its business in the House if the decision on rebel MLAs is not cleared by tomorrow morning. The Speaker needs to move fast as his decision will decide whether the current government will stay or go.
And after the Supreme Court’s interventions, the Speaker cannot afford to delay the matter as it will plunge the state further into crisis by not letting the Budget cleared on time. If the Speaker accepts the resignations, the coalition government will fall and the BJP members will stake the claim.
Presently, the coalition has 117 members but it may fall down to 102 if they rebel MLAs stick to their decisions. The saffron party has 105 legislators in the 224-member House.