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SC upholds disqualification of rebel K'taka MLAs, allows them to contest polls

Last updated on: November 13, 2019 20:55 IST

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the disqualification of the 17 Congress-Janata Dal(Secular) MLAs in Karnataka whose rebellion led to the fall of the Kumaraswamy government and the return of the Bharatiya Janata Party to power in July but gave some relief by allowing them to contest the upcoming bypolls to 15 assembly seats.

As the court struck down the portion of the order of the then Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar by which the legislators were disqualified till the end of the current term of the state assembly in 2023, all eyes were on the BJP's next move on whether it will give tickets to the Congress-JD(S) rebels.

Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwathnarayan said the disqualified MLAs will join the BJP on Thursday in Bengaluru after they expressed interest to be part of the saffron party.

The apex court also said if elected in the bypolls, the disqualified MLAs can become ministers or hold public office.

 

Observing that constitutional morality should never be replaced by political morality, a three-judge bench of justices N V Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari held that the Speaker, in exercise of his powers under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, 'does not have the power to either indicate the period for which a person is disqualified, or to bar someone contesting elections'.

The court said there is a growing trend of Speakers acting against the 'constitutional duty of being neutral' in addition to political parties indulging in horse trading and corrupt practices due to which citizens are being denied stable governments. Ramesh Kumar is a Congress leader.

The Speaker, being a neutral person, is expected to act independently while conducting the proceedings of the House or adjudication petitions, it said.

The constitutional responsibility endowed upon the Speaker has to be scrupulously followed and his political affiliations cannot come in the way of adjudication, the apex court said, adding, there is a need to consider strengthening certain aspects so that such 'undemocratic practices' are discouraged and checked.

"We must be careful to remember that the desirability of a particular rule or law, should not in any event be confused with the question of existence of the same, and constitutional morality should never be replaced by political morality, in deciding what the Constitution mandates," the court said in its 109-page judgment.

The disqualified legislators welcomed the verdict.

"The Supreme Court allowing us to contest election is important to us. We welcome it.. We are politicians.. This verdict is important to us," A H Vishwanath told reporters.

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa welcomed the verdict and said it was against the 'conspiracy' of Ramesh Kumar and Congress leader Siddaramaiah.

But the Congress said the verdict proved that the BJP-led government in the state was 'illegal' and sought its dismissal.

While Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president Dinesh Gundu Rao asked the BJP not to give tickets to the disqualified legislators if it has 'any morality left', Siddaramaiah said the court's stand was that defection was 'immoral' and 'violation of trust of the voter'.

Expressing confidence that the BJP will win all the 15 seats at stake, Yediyurappa said the party would decide on giving tickets to the disqualified MLAs.

The top court gave its verdict on petitions filed by the disqualified MLAs challenging the orders of Ramesh Kumar to disqualify them.

Ramesh Kumar disqualified the 17 legislators--14 from the Congress and three from the JD(S)--ahead of the trust vote on July 23.

The then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy resigned after losing the trust vote, which paved the way for the BJP-led government in the state under B S Yediyurappa.

Bypolls to 15 out of the 17 assembly seats which fell vacant following the disqualification of the MLAs are scheduled on December 5 and candidates are required to file their nomination papers between November 11 and November 18.

The disqualified MLAs are: Pratap Gowda Patil, BC Patil, Shivram Hebbar, ST Somashekar, Byrati Basavaraj, Anand Singh, R Roshan Baig, N Munirathna, K Sudhakar and MTB Nagaraj, Shrimant Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumatalli and R Shankar (all Congress).

JD-S members who faced action are K Gopalaiah, AH Vishwanath and KC Narayana Gowda.

Ramesh Kumar heaved a sigh of relief over the verdict.

"Supreme Court has upheld the disqualification- to that extent, it's a sigh of relief (for me). On the issue of tenure (of disqualification), Supreme Court has not agreed to my interpretation I will speak on that after going through the text of the judgement," he told reporters in Bengaluru.

The court said the Speaker's scope of inquiry regarding acceptance or rejection of a resignation tendered by a member is limited to examine whether it was tendered voluntarily or genuinely.

Ramesh Kumar had come under attack for delay in accepting the resignations of the rebel legislators who were holed up in a Mumbai hotel for several days amid high drama.

The apex court also deprecated the manner in which the disqualified MLAs directly approached it without first moving high court.

The BJP had a smooth sailing in winning the trust vote on July 29, as the disqualification of the 17 Congress-JD(S) MLAs by the Speaker reduced the effective strength of the 225-member Assembly to 208.

The magic figure for the simple majority was 105, equivalent to the strength of the BJP, which also commands the support of an Independent.

Timeline

Following is the chronology of events in the 17 Karnataka MLAs disqualification matter in which the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the then Speaker's order, but paved the way for the MLAs to contest the December 5 bypolls on 15 seats in the state:

July 6: Twelve MLAs from the Congress-JD-S coalition submit resignation leading to 13-month-old Karnataka government into crisis.

July 10: Ten rebel Congress and JD-S MLAs move SC alleging Assembly Speaker has deliberately not been accepting their resignations.

July 11: SC asks then Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar to decide "forthwith" on resignation of 10 rebel Congress-JD-S MLAs, allowed the lawmakers to meet him at 6 pm.

Speaker Ramesh Kumar moves SC against its order.

July 12: SC asks assembly speaker to maintain status quo on the resignation and disqualification of 10 MLAs.

July 15: Five more rebel Congress MLAs move SC seeking impleadment along with the pending petition of 10 legislators.

July 16: Speaker tells SC he would decide on both disqualification and resignation of the rebel MLAs by Jul 17, requests court to modify its earlier order directing him to maintain status quo.

Then Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy tells SC it had no jurisdiction to pass the two interim orders.

July 17: SC says 15 rebel MLAs "ought not" to be compelled to participate in ongoing Assembly session, Speaker to decide on their resignation within time-frame considered appropriate by him.

July 19: Karnataka Congress moves SC contending its order was coming in way of party issuing whip to its legislators in the ongoing trust vote.

July 22: Congress-JD-S government collapsed after confidence motion moved by CM H D Kumaraswamy was defeated in the assembly.

July 25: Speaker disqualifies three MLAs under the anti-defection law.

July 26: Karnataka BJP stalwart B S Yediyurappa sworn in as CM for fourth time.

July 28: Speaker disqualifies 14 more MLAs under the anti-defection act till the end of the current term of the assembly in 2023.

July 29: Yediyurappa proved majority in the Assembly. Two rebel Congress leaders move SC against disqualification from Assembly.

August 1: 14 disqualified MLAs move SC challenging their disqualification

September 17: SC judge Justice M M Shantanagoudar recuses from hearing pleas filed by 17 disqualified MLAs challenging their disqualification.

September 23: SC agrees to hear plea of disqualified MLAs seeking to contest bypolls for 15 assembly seats in the state.

October 25: SC reserves verdict on batch of petitions challenging disqualification of 17 MLAs.

November 4: Karnataka Congress urges SC to take on record a fresh audio clip in which Yediyurappa is purportedly hitting out at his party leaders for not recognising the "sacrifice" of the disqualified Congress-JD-S MLAs, because of whom the BJP could come to power.

November 5: SC refuses to pass order on Karnataka Congress' request

November 8: Disqualified Karnataka MLAs move SC, seek further postponement of Assembly bypolls scheduled for Dec 5.

November 13: SC upholds Speaker's decision of MLAs' disqualification but allows them to contest Dec 5 bypolls.

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