The Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka hung by a thread on Wednesday ahead of the floor test on 18 July, with the rebel MLAs refusing to yield after the Supreme Court held they cannot be compelled to attend the Assembly session to decide the ruling coalition's fate.
The apex court also refused to meddle with the rights of the Karnataka Assembly Speaker and gave him liberty to decide on resignation of rebel MLAs. The court refused to set any time limit for the Speaker, within which he must take a call on the issue. The Supreme Court direction was an interim order and the matter would be taken up in detail at a later stage.
Armed with the court order, the rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs camping in Mumbai said there was no question of stepping back on their resignations or attending the session.
"We are happy with the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court, we honour it," rebel Congress MLA BC Patil said in a video released to the media, further receding the hopes of the ruling coalition to win them back to their fold.
Flanked by 11 other Congress-JD(S) MLAs who have quit, Patil said, "we all are together and whatever decision we have taken...at any cost no question of going back (on resignations). We stand by our decision. No question of going to Assembly."
It is important to note that, in essence, this means that if the MLAs skip the trust vote on Thursday, then HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition government would be reduced to minority in the Assembly and leave it on the brink of collapse, in the climax of a crisis that started 6 July.
Supreme Court says, "Karnataka MLAs not compelled to participate in the trust vote tomorrow." https://t.co/qSfPf8oQ2x
— ANI (@ANI) July 17, 2019
The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, and comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, said the speaker's discretion in deciding the resignation issue of the 15 MLAs should not be fettered by the court's directions or observations and he should be free to decide the issue. The court also said the speaker's decision should be put before it.
The bench, while pronouncing the order, said it was necessary to maintain the constitutional balance in the matter.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the MLAs, told reporters, "In view of trust vote kept for tomorrow, the Supreme Court has said two important things — the 15 MLAs will not be compelled to attend the House tomorrow. All the 15 MLAs are given the liberty that they may or may not go to the House tomorrow."
Rohatgi also said that the whip issued by Congress-JD(S) government to the rebel MLAs to attend the Assembly stood invalid now.
"The three-line whip issued to the rebel MLAs to attend the House tomorrow is not operative in view of the Supreme Court judgement. Secondly, the Speaker has been given time to decide on the resignations as and when he wants to decide," he said.
Former chief minister and BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa said the apex court's order was a "win for democracy" and a "moral victory of the rebel MLAs".
Also welcoming the top court's decision was the speaker, saying, "I will not delay decision on resignations, will work as per my constitutional role."
The disgruntled MLAs honoured the verdict and remained firm on their stance to skip the floor test on Thursday.
"We honour Supreme Court's verdict. We all are together. We stand by our decision. There is no question of going to the Assembly," said the rebel MLAs.
— ANI (@ANI) July 17, 2019
BJP Rajya Sabha MP GVL Narasimha Rao also hailed the verdict. "Supreme Court has given relief to the MLAs they were hoping for. The many whips issued by the Congress-JD(S) will not affect the MLAs," said Rao.
Reiterating the top court's observation that there is no time frame for the speaker to take a call on the issue, former Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar hoped that the decision will be taken "within a day or two".
"I hope the Speaker will decide on the resignations within a day or two," said Shettar, urging Kumaraswamy to resign as the chief minister. "There is anarchy in the state because of HD Kumaraswamy, he should resign immediately after this verdict and not wait for the trust vote."
The top court had earlier taken up the petitions of 10 dissident MLAs and directed the Speaker to maintain status quo on their resignation and disqualification till 16 July.
The plea was filed by Pratap Gouda Patil, Ramesh Jarkhiholi, Byrati Basavaraj, BC Patil, ST Somashekar, Arbail Sivaram Hebbar and Mahesh Kumathalli from Congress and K Gopalaiah, H D Vishwanath and Narayan Gowda from JD(S).
Five other rebel MLAs – K Sudhakar, Roshan Baig, MTB Nagaraj, Muniratna and Anand Singh – had approached the court on 13 July contending they had resigned "voluntarily" and that their resignation must be accepted by the Speaker.
The 13-month-old Congress-JD(S) government had slumped into crisis after the MLAs resigned from the membership of the Assembly earlier in July.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jul 17, 2019 19:56:41 IST