Addressing an election rally at Kalaburagi on April 29, BS Yeddyurappa had announced that he would take oath on May 17 as Karnataka chief minister. Yeddyurappa turned his tryst with destiny into a reality via Governor Vajubhai Vala’s controversial decision to invite him to form government and following a mid-night hearing of a joint petition by the Congress and JD(S) seeking deferment of swearing in of the Karnataka cabinet today.
The Supreme Court allowed Yeddyurappa to take oath subjecting it to final decision on the petition. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court asked Yeddyurappa to submit the letters of support proving that the BJP enjoys majority in 222-member Karnataka Assembly.
The BJP won 104 of 222 seats where election was held in Karnataka. The Congress and JD(S) entered into a post-poll alliance making coalition’s strength at 116. Governor Vala, though, has given Yeddyurappa 15 days’ time to prove majority in Karnataka Assembly. The Supreme Court may on Friday (when further hearing of the matter is scheduled) cut short the time given to Yeddyurappa to prove majority.
The BJP has argued both in the Supreme Court and outside that it will prove majority on the floor of the house in Karnataka Assembly. The implicit meaning of this claim is that the BJP is confident of defection by some of the newly-elected members from the Congress or the JD(S) or both.
Such defections are not new to Indian politics. The trend was so much in vogue during 1980s that Parliament inserted the 10th Schedule in the Constitution through 52nd Amendment Act in 1985. This 10th Schedule is popularly referred to as the Anti-Defection Law.
The Anti-defection law defines the grounds of under paragraph 2 of the Schedule:
- When an MLA voluntarily gives up his/her membership of a party
- When he/she votes (or abstains from voting) contrary to the directive issued by the party
- Independent members would be disqualified if they joined a political party
- A party could be merged into another if at least two-thirds of its party legislators voted for the merger
The Supreme Court in the past has passed rulings on what constitutes “voluntarily” giving up membership of a party and also what is the meaning of voting or abstaining against party’s express directive.
In Ravi Naik vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court ruled that “the words ‘voluntarily gives up his membership’ are not synonymous with ‘resignation’ and have a wider connotation. A person may voluntarily give up his membership of a political party even though he has not tendered his resignation from the membership of that party.”
In another judgment, the Supreme Court held if an MLA of a party gives a letter to the Governor extending his or her support to the leader from across the political aisle to form a government, the said member would be considered to have given up membership “voluntarily”.
So, if any of the Congress or JD(S) MLAs gives a letter of support to or votes in favour of Yeddyurappa government during the floor test, the member would be liable for defection. But then the Speaker of Karnataka Assembly will decide whether the member in question is punishable under the Anti-defection law or not.
There is another route to acquire “horses” for BJP’s stable government.
Operation Lotus has suddenly become the talking point in Karnataka. Operation Lotus is the name given to the BJP’s political manoeuvring in a similar situation in 2008. The BJP had fallen short of majority in the election.
Before the trial of strength in Karnataka Assembly, six of JD(S) and Congress MLAs resigned from their membership. They later contested on the BJP tickets in the bypolls. The Congress and JD(S) alleged that the BJP poached at their MLAs.
Reports suggest that in the backdrop of alleged appeasement of the Lingayats and “sidelining” of Vokkaligas during Siddaramaiah regime, the JD(S) is wary of a possible defection.
The BJP is hopeful of winning over some of the “anti-Congress” legislators from the JD(S). On the other hand, some pro-Lingayat legislators in the Congress – especially from the Bombay Karnataka region – are also said to be open to “cooperate” under Operation Lotus.