Karnataka crisis: Speaker meets rebel MLAs, says will study resignations ‘all night’

Suspense over the fate of Karnataka’s wobbling ruling coalition continued on Thursday as assembly speaker KR Ramesh Kumar was yet to take a final call on the resignations of 10 rebel legislators after a Supreme Court directive, and chief minister HD Kumaraswamy refused to step down out in the face of his administration’s wilting majority.

Kumar met the 10 MLAs – seven from the Congress and three from the Janata Dal (Secular) – shortly after 6pm in his chamber in the Karnataka assembly and received their resignation letters. But he refused to take a final decision on accepting their letters demitting office and said he would study them “all night”.

Earlier in the day after hearing the petition of the rebel MLAs, the apex court asked Kumar to “take a decision forthwith and, in any case, in the course of the remaining part of the day”.

It will, however, on Friday hear a petition he filed asking for more time.

Kumar confirmed all resignations received were in the correct format – he had rejected eight letters on Tuesday for not being in the proper format – and said his meeting with the lawmakers was videographed and will be submitted to the top court.

“Yes the MLAs came and they have given the resignations in the proper format. They asked if I will accept but I cannot do that. I have to think over this all night and take a decision and see if this is voluntary and genuine,” he said. He has given time to some of the legislators to meet him on Friday and Monday, and convince him that the letters were not coerced.

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He also rejected criticism that he was prolonging the process to buy time for the government and said the fault lay with the MLAs, who had allegedly turned up at his office without appointment on Saturday at 2pm – half-an-hour after he had left. “In the whole episode, my job is not to save or remove people,” he said, adding that he was acting in accordance with the Constitution. “Should I have worked at lightning speed? For whose sake? What about the rules, the people? I only abide by the Constitution,” he said.

Since Saturday, 16 lawmakers from the coalition have tendered their resignations. If accepted, it will push the ruling alliance into a minority in the 224-member assembly. Frenetic attempts by coalition troubleshooters over the past week to convince the rebels to return have been foiled.

But Kumaraswamy appeared defiant and questioned those who have called for his resignation. “When [Karnataka Bharatiya Janata Party chief] Yeddyurappa was CM, at that time [2009-10] when 18 MLAs including eight ministers went against him, he did not quit. Why I should resign? What is the necessity for me to quit?”

But former deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader R Ashoka said the numbers game was over.

“There is no majority for the Congress. There is no BJP role in this issue. The MLAs who have resigned have expressed unhappiness with Kumaraswamy and [Congress leader] Siddaramaiah,” he added.

The monsoon session of the Karnataka assembly begins on Friday and the current crisis is expected to roil the proceedings. Yeddyurappa said the party had not taken any decision on the matter yet. “We will wait for the Supreme Court to decide on Friday,” he said.

A cautious Congress issued a whip to its MLAs to be present through the session and vote in favour of the government. Senior Congress leader Krishna Byregowda said the BJP could ask for a division of votes on the Finance bill if it wished.

“We will not stop them exercising their right,” he added. A division of votes on the Finance bill is akin to a trust vote and the chief minister has to resign if it is not passed.

The day began with the stage for Karnataka’s political drama shifting to Delhi. An SC bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi heard a petition by 10 rebel MLAs that accused the speaker of acting in a “partisan and mala fide manner… to protect the government”.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the rebels, said the resignations were in public interest and the legislators would prefer to go back to the electorate.

Rohatgi said it was surprising that the speaker was not accepting their resignations. The CJI was quick to retort and said “nothing surprises us”.

The court told the rebels to seek police protection and appear before the speaker at 6pm, and asked Kumar to take a decision on their applications by Thursday.

Within hours, Kumar moved the top court, saying he was bound by constitutional obligations and assembly rules required him to conduct an inquiry to ascertain whether the resignations were voluntary and genuine. “To determine the same an inquiry cannot be completed within the stipulated time frame fixed by the top court,” said the petition, which will be heard on Friday.

As evening rolled in, the MLAs — Pratap Gouda Patil, BC Patil, ST Somashekhar, BA Basavaraj, Shivaram Hebbar, Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumathahalli of the Congress, and, AH Vishwanath, K Gopalaiah and Narayana Gowda of the JD(S) — flew into Bengaluru by a chartered flight and were whisked to the assembly by the police, which set up a zero-traffic corridor.

Separately, the Congress pressed a pending petition for disqualification against Jarkiholi and Kumathahalli for violating the whip during the Budget session in February, when the duo had skipped the proceedings. While addressing reporters, Kumar said he was in a fix about the disqualification petition and made repeated reference to Schedule 10 of the Constitution that deals with defection.

First Published:
Jul 11, 2019 23:40 IST

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