The serious political crisis in Karnataka assumed the form of a constitutional logjam on Friday, thanks to the governor and the Supreme Court. The Opposition BJP, especially its overly ambitious state chief B.S. Yeddyurappa, saw in the fragile political equation within the ruling combine an opportunity to seize power. The method it employed was to spirit away to Mumbai disgruntled ruling side MLAs to give effect to Operation Lotus Mark II. Variants of this method have been successfully used by the BJP in many states in recent times. Operation Topple mounted in Karnataka was a purely political game, even though Mr Yeddyurappa was seeking to make a mockery of the anti-defection law by inducing large-scale defections of MLAs since it is much easier to catch out individual defectors and punish them constitutionally.
This political problem could have sorted itself out politically. However, owing to the grossly ill-considered positions adopted by the Supreme Court and Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala, unprecedented constitutional issues were to the fore on Friday — after the process of taking a confidence vote was begun by the CM a day earlier. The Supreme Court should have avoided being sucked into a political quagmire. Instead, a three-member bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi practically gave carte blanche to intending ruling side defectors — misleadingly labelled “dissidents” — through its interim order of July 17.
It ruled that these 15 MLAs “could not be compelled” to attend the Assembly during the trust vote. This meant a party whip, a hoary instrument that upholds the party system in Westminster-style democracies and is crucial to the operation of the anti-defection law (10th Schedule), would not apply to the defectors-in-the-pipeline and they couldn't be made to vote for the party on whose ticket they were elected.
This is an extraordinary reading of the law and parliamentary practice by the wise ones, and was challenged by the CM, as well as the Congress and the JD(S) on Friday.
Perhaps taking a cue from the court and BJP politicians, the governor informed the CM — although the latter had already initiated trust vote proceedings — that he may have lost the confidence of the House. Under the landmark Bommai judgment, this matter can only be tested on the floor of the legislature, and not in Raj Bhawan.
Exceeding his constitutional powers, the governor sought to intimidate Speaker K.R. Ramesh to take the vote count even before the debate on the trust motion ended. A confident Speaker dismissed the governor’s missive with the contempt it deserved, just as he did not earlier bother with the Supreme Court’s instruction to close trust vote proceedings within a day, which was an encroachment on the legislature’s prerogative and privileges.
It is to be hoped that a piqued governor will not go down the slippery slope of recommending President’s Rule while a trust motion is under debate....