New Delhi, Nov 13, 2019 : The Supreme Court today confirmed the disqualification of 17 Karnataka MLAs whose revolt triggered the collapse of the Janata Dal Secular-Congress government and the subsequent takeover by the BS Yediyurappa-led BJP. But the court has cancelled the Speaker’s decision to bar the rebel MLAs from contesting polls till 2023.
"In a parliamentary democracy, morality is equally binding on the government and the opposition," the Supreme Court said, upholding then Speaker’s decision to disqualify the rebels in July.
The court said while the petitioners could have approached the High Court, "we proceeded to hear the case because of the peculiar instances".
The judgment has a bearing on the BJP government and also the December by-polls to 15 of 17 vacant seats in the assembly.
Fourteen rebel MLAs of the Congress and three of the JDS were disqualified under the anti-defection law by the Speaker in July.
The Supreme Court said the "taint of disqualification does not vaporise by tendering a resignation letter to the Speaker".
The Speaker also said the MLAs cannot contest elections until the term of the current assembly ends in 2023. That decision stands cancelled by the Supreme Court, which said the Speaker is "not empowered" to disqualify any member till the end of the term.
"There is a growing trend of the Speaker acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral. Further horse trading and corrupt practices associated with defection and change of loyalty for lure of office or wrong reasons have not abated. Thereby the citizens are denied stable governments," the judges observed, stressing on the need to consider strengthening certain aspects so that "such undemocratic practices are discouraged and checked".
The MLAs had questioned whether after resigning, they could be disqualified at all, given that the Supreme Court had said they cannot be forced to attend the assembly.
As the 17 MLAs quit and refused to return to the assembly, the JDS-Congress coalition fell during a trust vote on July 23, after which the BJP staked claim to power.
The MLAs had petitioned the Supreme Court asking for their disqualification to be cancelled. The JDS and Congress also went to the court saying the disqualifications must be enforced.
By-polls to 15 of the seats left vacant by the disqualifications will be held on December 5.
The BJP has the support of 106 MLAs in the 224-member assembly including one independent. The opposition JDS-Congress has 101.
The MLAs can now contest the by-polls.
They are likely to contest as candidates of the BJP, which has to win at least six of the 15 seats to retain its slim majority.
Chief Minister Yediyurappa has spoken in support of the rebels and is expected to accommodate them in his government as ministers. He may face resistance within the party on fielding Congress, JDS rebels as BJP candidates and then giving them ministries.