A precarious situation has developed resulting in a constitutional logjam in Karnataka. There is a need to have a relook at the Act.
Irrespective of the final outcome of the confidence vote sought by the JD(S)-Congress government of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, the country’s parliamentary form of democracy operationalised by different political parties is in deep crisis and requires urgent remedy to make it functional to serve the people.
A close look at the developments in Karnataka reveals how the crisis has developed, the seeds of which were sown in the aftermath of the assembly elections. In the assembly election in the state held in May 2018, people gave a fractured mandate to give no party a clear majority. The BJP had emerged as the single largest party winning 104 seats in the house of 224. The JD(S) and the Congress had won 37 and 78 seats respectively. This indicates that the elections were held for 222 seats only.
Karnataka’s Governor Vajubhai Vala, former ministerial colleague of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his chief ministerial days in Gujarat, chose to invite two-times chief minister and leader of the BJP legislative party B.S. Yeddyruppa to form the government and administered the oath of office on 17 May 2018.
The Congress-JD(S) moved the apex court of the country challenging the Governor’s decision. On 18 May, the Supreme Court, after hearing the Congress-JD (S) petition at nocturnal hours, while upholding the Governor’s right to call the leader of the single largest party to form the government first, directed the Governor to hold the floor test latest by 1600 hrs on 19 May.
Yeddyruppa, failing to manage the majority, resigned just before the floor test. Thereafter, a coalition government of the JD(S) and the Congress led by Kumaraswamy was formed. However, the BJP had accepted the development reluctantly.
Nevertheless, the coalition government could not function smoothly and jumped from one crisis to other. Failure of both the ruling parties in Karnataka to win even a single seat in the Lok Sabha elections added proverbial fuel to fire that had been simmering since the assembly elections.
While on the one hand, the Lok Sabha electoral results emboldened the state BJP led by Yeddyruppa who had been waiting eagerly to come back to power, on the other disgruntled MLAs of the ruling parties who had been denied positions of profit and power began to see an opportunity for them in the evolving crisis.
In the beginning,the central leadership of the BJP requested the state unit to exercise restraint and not to destablise the state coalition government with the intention of making a thorough assessment of the number game that is crucial to prove the majority in the house yet when the picture became clear, a go ahead was given.
Like in 2008,Yeddyruppa had launched ‘Operation Lotus’ where he along with another BJP leader, Janardhaan Reddy had convinced 7 MLAs-four from the JD(S) and three from the Congress- to resign their membership. In the ensuing by elections, five of the seven who had resigned their membership of the Assembly won whereas two of them lost. There was an immediate reshuffle of the state cabinet in which many BJP ministers had resigned and all the five were made ministers. There were rumours at that time that apart from the ministerial positions, all the seven who had resigned were given large sums of money.
Pattern and scheme of developments in the present crisis that erupted after the Lok Sabha election results has multiple similarities to the ‘Operation Lotus’ of 2008. The strategy that is being followed by the BJP is to make the JD(S) and Congress MLAs to resign to circumvent the provisions of the anti-defection law that had been enacted in 1985 and was put in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. One of the most significant objectives of the 1985 Act was to prevent political defections, that had come to acquire a negative tag of ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram,’ that might be due to reward of office or other similar considerations.
While ingenious ways to make a mockery of the anti-defection law have been in use for some time now as was witnessed in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Nagaland, Telangana and Uttarakhand in recent years, there have been some cases of its misuse in the Rajya Sabha too. The objective is to gain a majority and thus consolidation of power.
The crisis is deep and the problem is political. There are no easy solutions since political ethics is at the root of the problem. Taking the issue to the Supreme Court does not help as being witnessed in the case of Karnataka. The apex court, in its wisdom, left it to the Speaker to decide whether to accept the resignation of the MLAs who have tendered their resignations but however did not clarify if the party whip applies to those MLAs or not.
In its interim order of 17 July, the Supreme Court ruled that 15 MLAs, who have resigned, “could not be compelled” to attend the Assembly during the trust vote which in real terms meant that party whip was a pointless instrument that is crucial for upholding the party system in the Westminster style of parliamentary democracy. Party whip, in fact, is the main spirit of the anti-defection law. In the absence of the party whip, defectors-in-the-pipeline cannot be made to vote for the party on whose ticket and symbol they have been elected.
A very precarious situation has developed resulting in a constitutional logjam with role of the Governor in Karnataka further complicating the problem. To this end, there is a need to establish clarity on the existing provisions of the anti-defection law and have a relook at the Act.
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Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...Read More +