SC allows rebel Karnataka MLAs to contest again

Karnataka Assembly

The Supreme Court has allowed the rebel Congress and JD(S) members of the Karnataka Assembly to contest in the upcoming bypoll on Dec 5.

The ruling is a big boost to the 17 MLAs who helped the BJP come back to power by resigning from their seats and reducing the head count of Congress and JD(S) in the Assembly.

The Supreme Court has clarified that the speaker of the house does not have the right to decide the term of disqualification of MLAs found guilty of violating the law. Typically, people who are found guilty of violating the law and undergo punishment are disqualified to stand for election for six years.

The speaker had disqualified these MLAs from standing for election until the end of the term of the current Assembly.

Sandip Patil, one of the lawyers representing the MLAs, said the Supreme Court held that only two factors can be used to judge the validity of a resignation — voluntariness and genuineness.

Before the Karnataka MLA’s case, members of the parliament and legislatures had routinely been allowed to contest in bye-polls, usually under another banner.

The ruling is also a big relief to the BJP-led state government in Karnataka, as the BJP can now field these same ex-MLAs from their constituencies under the BJP symbol, increasing their chances of victory.

The BJP needs to win 7 out of the 15 seats in the upcoming bye-election. The bye-elections were supposed to have taken place a month ago, but were postponed due to the ongoing case.

The bigger challenge for both the BJP and these ‘rebel MLAs’ would now be to convince the electorate that what they did was right, and ensure that people who voted for them continue to vote for them in the upcoming election as well.

Moreover, these MLAs would also get the backing of the BJP voters in these constituencies.

Congress leader Dinesh Gundurao said his party accepted the verdict and was happy that the disqualification of the MLAs by ex-speaker KR Ramesh has been upheld.

The decision was delivered by a three-judge bench of the top court comprising justices NV Ramana, Sanjeev Khanna and Krishna Murari.

The BJP has the support of 106 MLAs in the 224-member assembly including one independent. The opposition JDS-Congress has 101.

“People don’t want to get back to those distressing days of the coalition when the Congress and JDS were everyday involved in fights,” said BJP leader Vijay Reddy.

It remains to be seen if the BJP actually gives seats to these MLAs. It also remains to be seen if the Congress and JD(S) will come together to win these seats back, or fight each other, giving the BJP the edge.

The two had ‘dissolved’ their alliance after the resignation of these MLAs caused the Congress-JDS government to resign.

Supreme Court’s decision in the Karnataka case could have some ramifications for the ongoing tussle in Maharashtra, in which the BJP has again fallen short of the majority mark by about 40 seats. If it can persuade 20 opposition MLAs to resign, it too could come back to power in Maharashtra.