Karnataka ruling: Two cheers for the Supreme Court, not three

Senior Congress leader and Advocate Abhishek Singhvi addresses the media after a hearing in Karnataka government formation case, at Supreme Court in New Delhi, on Friday. The Supreme Court ordered a floor test to be conducted in the Karnataka Assembly on Saturday for BJP’s B S Yeddyurappa, who was sworn-in as Chief Minister, to prove his majority.

Should the apex court have first set aside the appointment of BS Yeddyurappa and then ordered the floor test?

So, has the Supreme Court saved our democracy and upheld the Constitution? The order to hold the floor test tomorrow and setting aside the Governor’s nomination of a member of the Anglo-Indian community etc. has been so unexpected that people have reacted with huge relief and even elation. The good point is that it seems to have restored the people’s faith in the Constitution.

But before I start spelling out my reservations, here is a quick recap of the ruling itself delivered by honourable justices Sikri, Bobde and Bhushan :

  1. Floor test tomorrow at 4 pm even as the court brushes aside Yeddyurappa’s plea for a week’s time
  2. Protem Speaker will not just administer the oath to the elected MLAs but will also choose the mode of the floor test.
  3. The apex court turns down the Attorney General’s unusual request for a secret ballot
  4. The court restrains Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa from taking any policy decisions like the farm loan waiver he announced yesterday
  5. The court orders the Karnataka DGP to ensure safety, and presumably security of movement of the elected MLAs
  6. It sets aside the Governor’s appointment of a member of the Anglo Indian community to the Assembly
  7. It clarifies that it would hear arguments on the wider issue of the authority of the Governor to invite a party to form a government even when it is unable to show it has majority support

Indeed, that is the reason why in its post-midnight hearing on Thursday morning, the Supreme Court had called for the letter submitted by the leader of the BJP Legislature Party to the Governor while staking its claim to form the government.

When this letter was produced before the court today, it became clear that the BJP had not been able to name a single MLA from other parties or even one of the two Independent candidates who got elected as pledging their support to BS Yeddyurappa.

In other words, the BJP did not have the support of 112 MLAs, the minimum required to stake the claim when it approached the Governor. On the other hand, the letter submitted by HD Kumaraswamy to the Governor did claim that he had the support of 117 MLAs.

With the letters leaving no doubt on this score, there is little doubt that the appointment of BS Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister was unconstitutional. And yet, the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has allowed an illegally appointed Chief Minister who does not have majority support to continue in office and take executive decisions.

It should have been easy for the Supreme Court to set aside the appointment before ordering the floor test. That would have been the right thing to do. How can an illegally appointed Chief Minister continue in office ?

The petitioners who approached the Supreme Court had challenged the Governor’s decision. But the apex court decided to side-step the issue and postpone it.

One certainly hopes that intimidation and allurements will not work. It is to be hoped that the Governor and the illegally appointed Chief Minister of Karnataka do not misuse their office before the floor test in a bid to influence it. If that happens, one will have to blame the Supreme Court for having taken the easier way out by not judging the main issue, not passing any stricture against the Governor and not setting aside a brazenly unconstitutional appointment.

To be fair, the Supreme Court judges too would have been under severe pressure. And the honourable justices may have decided in favour of a half-way house to avert a direct confrontation with the Centre.

But one has to be satisfied with small mercies and hope that the swell of public opinion and the letter and spirit of the Constitution will prevail.

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