Congress warning to potential rebels: Don’t cross the Laxman Rekha     

Disqualification of rebel MLAs in Karnataka is a signal to potential defectors in other Congress ruled states, say observers

Image courtesy: social media
Image courtesy: social media

KV Lakshmana

By pressing for the disqualification of rebel MLAs for defying party whip to be present and vote for the trust motion of the Kumaraswamy-led former coalition government, the Congress leadership has sent out a strong signal to party MLAs in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The fate of the rebel MLAs of the Congress as also of those of Janata Dal (S), 14 of Congress and three from JD (S), is now hanging on the outcome of a petition challenging Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s action that these MLAs described as hasty and against principles of natural justice.

Two of the disqualified MLAs – Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumathalli – said that the Speaker had disqualified them in hot haste with hardly any thought for the principles of natural justice. The Speaker disqualified them from the membership of the House and barred them from contesting bye-elections till the end of the term of the current Assembly in 2023.

For the rebels, this was a blow to their ministerial ambitions. The rebels have since been lamenting that neither their parent parties nor the BJP were now bothering about them and that they have been left high and dry.

When a couple of rebel MLAs this week flew to Delhi on a regular flight, Twitter users were quick to post derisive comments on how the disqualified MLAs, who were being flown around in private, chartered planes, have now been reduced to flying economy class in commercial flights.

While the rebels hope for reprieve from the Supreme Court, in a somewhat similar case when rebel MLAs defied whip in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the Apex Court had upheld the Speaker’s decision of disqualifying them. The Election Commission eventually conducted bye-elections to fill up vacancies in May this year. That is why elections to the 17 Assembly seats, whenever they are held in Karnataka, are going to be crucial for the BJP government now in the saddle.

For the present, the BJP government, led by BS Yediyurappa won the confidence vote with ease, through a voice vote, as it had the numbers in the house with just 208 members. With the magic number at 104 required, BJP on its own had the majority. Outgoing Speaker Ramesh Kumar’s decision disqualifying the rebels MLAs removed a major headache for the BJP of having to pander to the demands of the rebel MLAs.

Leader after Congress leader had indicated that they were serious about action against the rebels MLAs and that eventually they would be dumped by the BJP as well. Senior Congress leader DK Shivakumar had warned the rebels a day before the Kumaraswamy government’s trust vote to return to party fold or face action.

The Congress stand, explained a political analyst, was directed at its party MLAs in Madhya Pradesh where too the Kamal Nath government hangs in precariously, having just enough numbers to form the government.

The Congress has also begun taking preventive measures to stave off a similar threat to its dispensation in Madhya Pradesh. Two BJP MLAs had supported a government bill on the floor of the Assembly in Madhya Pradesh. The two MLAs, both former Congressmen, voted in favour of the government on a bill in the Assembly. During the division of votes on the Criminal Law (Madhya Pradesh Amendment) Bill 2019, a total of 122 MLAs voted in favour of the Congress government which assumed office in December last year.

The Congress had then won 114 seats, the BJP 109, the BSP 2, the SP 1 and four seats had gone to independent candidates. The halfway mark in the 230-strong Assembly in Madhya Pradesh is 115. Congress formed the government with the support of the BSP, SP, and independent candidates.

Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh indicate that few more MLAs from BJP were “in touch” with them to dispel notions that after Karnataka, it was the turn of Madhya Pradesh.

Whichever MLA crosses the border, from whichever party to the other side, will now have to be cautious and take the disqualification threat more seriously as Karnataka rebels are now ruing.

Former Karnataka Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar has called for stronger anti-defection laws. But the jury is still out on the Karnataka Speaker’s decision and all eyes now are on the Supreme Court.

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