The Election Commission (EC) which had earlier argued that there was no bar on disqualified Karnataka MLAs contesting the ensuing by-elections, sprang a surprise in the Supreme Court by making a suo motu submission that it would postpone the polls scheduled for October 21. Though the EC subsequently announced that the elections would be held on December 5, it appears to be an eyewash as the real purpose of throwing a lifeline to BJP and the disqualified MLAs has been achieved with the postponement of polls. With the court refusing to entertain the plea of the aggrieved legislators to contest the elections subject to the final outcome of the case, their political future was in jeopardy. Had elections been held in the interim, new MLAs would have been elected in their place. While on the one hand, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa was under extreme pressure from these MLAs to bail them out of the current legal mess, on the other, the BJP leaders at the constituency-level had strongly opposed fielding disqualified legislators in the by-elections, in case the court ruled in their favour. The EC’s decision has solved all problems, at least for now.
The court has two questions to settle. One, was the then Speaker Ramesh Kumar right in disqualifying the MLAs? Two, is the decision of the Speaker to bar the said legislators from contesting polls for the remainder of the term of the House, consistent with the provisions of the Constitution? While Article 164 (1-B), by implication permits a disqualified member to contest by-elections, the Speaker has taken the stand that the Tenth Schedule or the anti-defection law disallows re-election during the current term of the House. The Speaker’s order might espouse constitutional morality as the resignation of the MLAs to bring down an elected government goes against the spirit of the Anti-defection Act, but the question is, does it uphold constitutional law? In addition to the issue of disqualification, there is the issue of whether court should also read down Article 190 (3) (b) and lay down clear guidelines with respect to resignation of legislators as at present, the presiding officers have sweeping discretionary powers which are prone to misuse.
With the Chief Justice of India conceding that “weighty issues” are involved in the instant case, it is imperative that the court applies its judicial mind with diligence, but at the same time ensures there is no undue delay in delivering the judgment. It is also necessary that the court goes into the entire ambit of the Tenth Schedule, as over the years, the anti-defection law has been rendered ineffective by conniving politicians, not just in Karnataka, but in most other states.