The political drama in Karnataka will resume today after the weekend break. The widespread expectation is that KR Ramesh, Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly, will have written a brand new script to avoid voting in the confidence motion moved by Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy. Twice already, Ramesh has manipulated proceedings in such a way as to breach the deadline set by the Governor.
It is clear that the chief minister has lost the majority. All that remains to be done is to seal this with a vote in the Assembly, but Ramesh is hell-bent on either proving it to the contrary or delaying the real trial of strength. This crisis is a sequel to a long history of the dubious roles played by Speakers across the country in subverting the spirit of the constitution.
In the Westminster model, from which India borrows liberally, the role of the Speaker has historically been quite risky. Many were summarily executed for earning the wrath of the kings. But mostly for their adherence to the truth, unlike in the case at hand. Scarcely aware of this history about the institution of the Speakers in a parliamentary democracy, Speakers in legislative bodies in India seem to be conveniently preferring chicanery to truth.
Insulated by the doctrine that "the House is the master of its own business", Kumar has been running it in a manner that suits the ruling Congress- JDS coalition. So far he has managed to ignore not only the Governor but the Supreme Court as well. The chief minister and the Speaker have raised questions on the propriety of the Governor’s action in sending a directive to the speaker under Article 175.
A similar crisis was resolved in Uttar Pradesh assembly in 1995. On 20 June, 1995, barely 17 days after the state guest house episode in which Mayawati was attacked by the Samajwadi Party goons in Lucknow, the Assembly was called to enable the newly sworn-chief minister Mayawati to prove her majority. Governor Motilal Vora set the agenda of the House in which the no-confidence against the then Speaker Dhani Ram Varma figured at the top. Given the long association that Verma had with the Samajwadi Party and its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, it was expected that the Speaker would not allow any chance for the new government to hold the floor test.
This was the precise reason why the BJP legislature party moved a no-confidence against the Speaker first. As the assembly gathered exactly at 11 am, Dhani Ram Verma took the podium and declared the Assembly illegal and adjourned the House sine die. Anticipating this turn of event, all other members of the house, excluding the SP legislators, created a din so powerful that it practically drowned the voice of the Speaker who after mumbling his prepared note, left the podium. The SP legislators also walked out. In the melee, a BSP legislator Barkhu Ram Varma rushed to the Speaker’s Chair and occupied it.
In the records of the Assembly, Verma comes across as a Speaker who suddenly left the chair on his own and his declaration finds no mention. Barkhu Ram was immediately elected as acting Speaker and the trial of strength was held. In order to ensure the smooth functioning of the House, the governor had sent his two emissaries — his principal secretary Yogendra Narayan and legal adviser CB Pandey — to witness the proceedings and report to him.
This episode had confirmed the Governor’s right to set the agenda of the House and run it as per the constitution.
There are many instances after the Lucknow episode in 1995 when Speakers of state assemblies played partisan, acting agents of their party. Only a year later, Gujarat witnessed such a fracas when Speaker Harishchandra Patel was incapacitated because of his illness. He was issuing diktats from the hospital when Shanker Sinh Vaghela had raised the banner of revolt against Keshubhai Patel. His illness came in handy for the BJP to delay the trial of strength which would have proved Keshubhai Patel government’s minority status.
Similarly, the BJP found itself in a precarious position in 1997 when Mayawati decided to withdraw support from the Kalyan Singh government. A group of legislators from the BSP and the Congress then joined the BJP though they fell short of requisite strength of one-third of the party’s legislature to effect a split under the anti-defection act (old act). Speaker Kesarinath Tripathi, who is a legal luminary as well, famously gave a ruling which said “defection is a continuing process” and gave recognition to the splits.
Given this hoary history of Speakers’ shenanigans, it would be naïve to expect Ramesh to not follow precedents to act as his party’s — in this case the Congress — agent. Kumaraswamy along with the Speaker will keep on devising more methods to stave off the floor test on one pretext or the other. Since the functioning of the legislatures enjoys a certain degree of immunity from judicial interference, this crisis will defy easy resolution. The Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly will use his constitutional immunity to further his chicanery.
That is why the only option left for the BJP and the Congress-JDS rebels is to move a no-confidence against the Speaker. Once that is done, the Speaker will have to step aside and a new Protem Speaker elected. Since the BJP, by all accounts has the numbers, it will be able to elect a non-Congress-JDS Speaker to conduct the House smoothly and take the vote of confidence to its logical end. Events are heading inexorably in that direction.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2019 08:31:13 IST