The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the pleas of 17 disqualified Karnataka MLAs seeking to contest Assembly bypolls scheduled by the Election Commission for October 21. The MLAs were disqualified in July by then Speaker KR Ramesh and barred from contesting polls for the duration of the Assembly, which ends in 2023, after their resignations allowed the BJP to force the ruling JDS-Congress coalition of former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy into a floor test that it lost.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice NV Ramana will decide on the interim demand of the petitioners, who want either polls to be stayed or to be allowed to contest, over two days starting Wednesday, when senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for some of the MLAs, will present their case. On Thursday Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for the party, will then argue against interim relief.
The court has issued notices to Congress leader and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the Election Commission and KR Ramesh in this matter.
For its part, the poll body has indicated it sees no reason to stay the polls and said disqualification did not bar a person from contesting in elections.
The petitioning MLAs include Congress leader Roshan Baig, who was suspended, pending inquiry, in June for alleged anti-party activities, and AH Vishwanath, the former President of the state unit of the JDS.
The MLAs, 13 from the Congress and three from the Janata Dal Secular, contend that KR Ramesh's decision to disqualify them is legally wrong and violates rights under Article 14, which protects against discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
They also contend it is an abuse of his powers under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution - which lays down the process by which MLAs may be disqualified on grounds of defection - and the MLAs' fundamental right to carry on trade, business and profession guaranteed under the Articles 19 and 21.
Former Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi has argued that his clients were only given three days to respond to the disqualification notice, against the required minimum of seven.
Bypolls will be held in 63 assembly seats across 17 states and one Union Territory, along with state polls in Haryana and Maharashtra. In Karnataka, bypolls will be held in 15 seats.
There are two more seats for which dates have not been announced as election cases related to them are still pending before the Karnataka High Court.
All votes will be counted on October 24.