Disqualification: advantage BSY

The decision of Karnataka Assembly Speaker Ramesh Kumar to disqualify 17 rebel MLAs of Congress and JD(S) and debar them from contesting elections until the term of the House expires once again exposes the chinks in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, popularly called the anti-defection law. The provisions are so vague and ambiguous that they can be interpreted or misinterpreted any way to suit the convenience of the regime of the day. Though it is for the courts to examine if the Speaker acted judiciously, it appears that Ramesh Kumar has not indulged in mischief to favour the Congress-JD(S) combine which was voted out last week. Article 190(3)(b) gives sweeping powers to the Speaker and empowers him to reject resignations of members if he is “satisfied that they are not voluntary or genuine”. Ramesh Kumar could have easily rejected all resignations, thereby restoring the Assembly to its full strength of 224, which would have automatically reduced newly sworn-in Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa’s government to a minority, leading to a constitutional crisis.

The Speaker’s decision will only help Yediyurappa sail smoothly through the vote of confidence on Monday as the BJP has a majority in the truncated House. As Article 164(1)(b) bars a disqualified member from becoming a minister until he gets re-elected, Yediyurappa can now breathe easy for another reason, too – the extreme pressure he was under to induct the rebels into his cabinet, which would have led to a revolt within the BJP, is off, thanks to the Speaker’s decision. Having lost their membership of the House, the rebels have now been left high and dry, with both BJP and the parties that they previously represented finding no need for them. A question arises whether the Speaker could disqualify a member who has already resigned. The answer could be either affirmative or negative since there are Supreme Court orders that cut both ways. However, the Speaker’s decision to bar disqualified members from contesting elections for the remainder of the life of the present Assembly may not stand the scrutiny of law as there is no such provision under the anti-defection law.

The anti-defection law has lost most of its teeth as politicians have found ways to subvert it. Numerous interpretations by presiding officers across the country and a plethora of orders by different high courts and the Supreme Court have only compounded the problem. The apex court’s approach, of late, has been to pass interim orders to tide over a crisis at hand while putting the larger issue on the backburner. It is high time, the court referred all matters arising out of the anti-defection law to the constitutional bench to deliver a lasting interpretation of it and a solution to the problem of political defections.

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