The truth is out of ‘sacrifices’ and rewards

The truth is out of ‘sacrifices’ and rewards

supreme court

Karnataka BJP leaders are hailing the “sacrifice” of the disqualified MLAs whose resignations led to the fall of the HD Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-Congress government, but in reality, what these legislators have committed is an act of constitutional immorality. 

After the 2018 Assembly elections, BJP emerged the single largest party and Governor Vajubhai Vala invited BS Yediyurappa to form the government though he did not command a majority in the Assembly. Yediyurappa had to resign in three days, having failed to muster the required numbers. This paved the way for the JD(S)-Congress government which won the vote of confidence on the floor of the House.

 Since then, Yediyurappa and the BJP have used every trick in the book to dislodge the constitutionally appointed government and to ascend to power themselves. In an experiment that was new to the state, several ruling coalition MLAs resigned around July to create an artificial majority for the BJP in the Assembly and enable Yediyurappa to become the chief minister, through the back door as it were.

 It is beyond anybody’s comprehension what these MLAs “sacrificed”, as their act was motivated by the lust for power and pelf, not any public good. There would have been an element of sacrifice had the legislators quit over the lack of schools, infrastructure or other developmental work in their constituencies. They have also shown no evidence to indicate that they had submitted any major proposal for the benefit of their constituencies, which was rejected by the JD(S)-Congress government. Resigning with the sole selfish motive of advancing their political careers and foisting bypolls or mid-term elections at an enormous cost to the exchequer is by no means a “sacrifice”.

 Though the BJP consistently denied its role in poaching the disgruntled MLAs at least until the Supreme Court judgement in the MLAs resignation and disqualification case, the party’s footprints were seen all over the place. Yediyurappa’s personal assistant was caught on camera accompanying the MLAs to Mumbai in an aircraft owned by a BJP MP. The then chief minister Kumaraswamy had released an audio clip in which Yediyurappa and his team were heard allegedly offering inducements to the son of an MLA to switch sides, while claiming that everybody from Supreme Court judges to the Governor and the Speaker were “managed” by the BJP.

 Considering the seriousness of the charges, the then Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar had suggested an inquiry by a special investigation team (SIT), but for some unknown reason, Kumaraswamy refused to order a probe and allowed the issue to die. Had Kumaraswamy initiated action then, Yediyurappa perhaps would not have been chief minister today, but would be facing a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

 Now that the apex court has permitted the disqualified MLAs to contest the ensuing by-elections, the cat is officially out of the bag. Recently, another audio clip of Yediyurappa claiming that BJP president Amit Shah was aware of the poaching operation right from the start, came into the open. Last week, one of the disqualified legislators, Ramesh Jarkiholi told a rally of his supporters, “We met Yediyurappa 14 months ago to plan mass defections. We then met Amit Shah in Hyderabad and told him that we would join BJP if Yediyurappa was made the chief minister. Shah asked us to go ahead and we brought down the government. We tried around seven or eight times, and finally succeeded.” Another former MLA, AH Vishwanath, who hitherto represented Hunsur, has revealed that his resignation from JD(S) was facilitated by BJP MP Srinivasa Prasad.

With elections declared to 15 of the 17 vacant seats — two constituencies will not go to polls due to a pending case in the High Court — the BJP has issued party tickets to 13 disqualified legislators, with Yediyurappa publicly declaring that they will all be made ministers. While R Roshan Baig from Shivajinagar and R Shankar from Ranebennur have been denied tickets, the latter has been assured that he would be made an MLC and inducted into the ministry.

The events of the past few days clearly establish that the BJP was actively involved in poaching ruling party legislators by offering them incentives like ministership, to pull down the JD(S)-Congress government, which defeats the very purpose of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, also called the anti-defection law. The Supreme Court has also indicted the MLAs for their dubious role by upholding their disqualification by the Speaker for indulging in anti-party activities.

However, it is unfortunate that though the culpability of the legislators is established beyond doubt as upheld by the court, they will go unpunished because the law is toothless on this count. The only punishment the Constitution prescribes is that a disqualified legislator cannot become a minister until he is re-elected to either house. With the court refusing to read down the law, its order will now serve as an imprimatur for future resignation-defection dramas.

Acknowledging that political parties are indulging in “horse-trading and corrupt practices” due to which citizens are denied a stable government, the apex court has urged Parliament to consider strengthening the Tenth Schedule so that such undemocratic practices are discouraged.  At the same time, the bench was not in favour of strong penal consequences against defectors as it would have a “chilling effect on legitimate dissent.”

Thus, the issue before Parliament is two-pronged: To amend the Tenth Schedule to avoid a situation like Karnataka where a duly elected government is sabotaged through illegitimate means, and to simultaneously ensure that a legislator can express genuine dissent without attracting the provisions of the anti-defection law. But with the BJP currently benefitting the most from these shortcomings in the law, will Parliament move to plug the loopholes?

(The writer is a political commentator based in Bengaluru) 

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