- Karnataka Speaker free to decide on status of rebel lawmakers
- Lawmakers not be compelled to participate in assembly: Top court
- "We have to maintain constitutional balance", says Supreme Court
The Karnataka Speaker is free to decide on the status of rebel lawmakers whose resignations endanger the ruling Congress-Janata Dal Secular coalition, the Supreme Court said today.
"The discretion of the Speaker should not be fettered by any direction from the court. The Speaker can decide on the resignations as and when he feels appropriate," the top court said, but added that his decision should be submitted to the court.
The court also said the rebel lawmakers should not be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the state assembly. This means the government cannot use whips to force the dissident lawmakers to participate in the trust vote on Thursday.
The court said: "We have to maintain constitutional balance."
The rebels had argued in court yesterday that their resignations must be accepted by the Speaker, that they could not be "forced to attend the assembly".
"The Supreme Court has put extra burden on me. I will conduct myself responsibly in accordance with Constitutional principle," Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar said soon after the top court pronounced its order on the issue that has pushed the state into political turmoil.
"It is a victory of the Constitution and democracy, a moral victory for the rebel MLAs. It is an interim order and in future the Supreme Court will ponder over the powers of the Speaker and set a new trend in parliamentary democracy," said Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa.
Sixteen legislators of the JDS-Congress coalition have resigned over the past two weeks; two independent lawmakers quit as ministers and withdrew support to the ruling coalition.
If the resignations are accepted, the state government will lose its majority. The coalition's 118 members will come down to 100 and the majority mark will drop from 113 to 105. The BJP has 105 members and the support of the two independents, which would take its tally to 107.
Ramesh Kumar had told the court that many of the dissidents were facing disqualification and he needed time to examine their resignation letters. He had also said he had to determine whether the resignations were coerced.
If the lawmakers are disqualified, they must be re-elected and can't become ministers. A resignation, on the other hand, allows lawmakers to become ministers easily if the BJP comes to power. They will have six months to seek re-election.
The rebels, who have been staying in a hotel in Mumbai after resigning on July 6, had gone to the Supreme Court accusing the Speaker of sitting on their resignations to buy time for the shaky coalition.
Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had backed the Speaker, arguing that rebel lawmakers were "hunting in pack" to destabilize his government and their resignations must be reviewed carefully.
"Every MLA who went to Mumbai wants to be a minister. It is a pack of 10 MLAs. It isn't about the Speaker vs the Court but the Chief Minister vs somebody who wants to become Chief Minister," said senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Chief Minister.
Stating that no one held a gun to their head, the rebels had retorted in court, "This government is in a minority and that's simple math."
Mr Kumaraswamy's move to seek a floor test tomorrow is seen as a last-ditch attempt to save the teetering coalition that came to power last May after an election that gave no clear majority to any party.
Congress troubleshooter DK Shivakumar and other coalition leaders have been frantically trying to win back the rebels in Mumbai.
The BJP says the coalition government must resign because it has "lost its moral authority to rule." The party has been accused by the Congress and the JDS of crafting the crisis to try and seize power in Karnataka, more than a year after it fell short of a majority in state polls.