Is the H.D. Kumaraswamy government’s fate sealed? After the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that the 15 rebel Congress and JD(S) MLAs, whose resignations brought the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government to the brink, cannot be compelled to take part in the trust vote that the Kumaraswamy-led government has moved for July 18, there was quiet jubilation in the BJP camp.
The prospect of the BJP forming a government in Karnataka under state chief B.S. Yeddyurappa is clearly an all-too-real possibility.
While the Congress reacted with predictable outrage, the bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi gave Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar some room to decide on the resignations of rebel MLAs by saying the time-frame of the decision would be left to him, heading off what could have become a confrontation between the court and the Speaker.
But as the coalition partners attempt now to prolong the inevitable by seeking a debate on the confidence vote that may last until Monday, Congress legislature party leader Siddaramaiah has approached the Speaker with a set of arguments that boils down to whether all MLAs, bound as they are by the rules of the Assembly, must seek prior permission of the Speaker to remain absent from the House or face disqualification.
The situation may therefore not see an early closure. In one of two separate petitions handed over by the coalition partners to Mr Kumar on Wednesday, the Congress states that the court's order indirectly infringes on the right of political parties to issue a whip. It also states that none of the rebels has sought the Speaker’s permission to remain absent from the House, which they say is a clear case of violation of rules of the Assembly; implying that these have been ignored by the court.
The Congress, in a bid to further cut the rebels’ numbers, has also moved a petition for the disqualification of minister R. Shankar on the grounds that he met governor Vajubhai Vala and extended support to the BJP less than a month after giving a letter to the Congress that he would merge his outfit, the Karnataka Parjnavantara Janata Party, with the Congress.
As for the JD(S), for whom the loss of Karnataka will come as a huge blow as it is unlikely to have the numbers to form a government on its own in the near future, chief minister Kumaraswamy made a last-ditch attempt to save the coalition by offering to step down and allow a Congress leader to take over the reins. How the drama unfolds on Thursday, however, will depend on the Speaker’s decision on the rules of the House on one hand, and that of the BJP against the possibility of the debate on the trust vote being dragged beyond Thursday.
The Congress-JD(S) has 101, and the BJP 107, in a House of 224. The numbers say it all.