Hardly 24 hours after a daybreak hearing saw the Supreme Court allow BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa to be sworn in as Karnataka Chief Minister, the court on Friday ordered a floor test to be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday to decide whether he commands majority in the House.
Justice A.K. Sikri, who led the three-judge Bench, said “ultimately this is a number game and the proof of the pudding is in the floor test”.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Mr. Yeddyurappa and two BJP MLAs, made a statement that Mr. Yeddyurappa will not take any major policy decisions in the interim till the floor test is conducted. Justice Sikri said, tongue-in-cheek, that “anyway you will be busy with other things”.
The Bench, also comprising Justices S.A. Bobde and Ashok Bhushan, brushed aside protests by Mr. Rohatgi about having the floor test. Mr. Rohatgi said the “Congress has their members locked up in Kochi whereas I have to gather my flock”.
“There is a joke doing the rounds in WhatsApp that a resort owner has written to the Governor saying he has 117 MLAs with him and wants to form the government,” Justice Sikri quipped.
“But no floor test tomorrow... This is not fair,” Mr. Rohatgi pressed on.
Justice Sikri stood firm, saying the “floor test should be tomorrow, this way nobody gets any time” amidst fears expressed by Congress-JDs combine of poaching.
“We are not going by any political party,” Justice Sikri said.
“Whichever the party, the final decision will be taken on the floor of the House,” Justice Bobde added
The court ordered a Protem Speaker to be chosen immediately to conduct the confidence vote on May 18. The court directed the State Director General of Police to ensure the safety of the members.
The court shot down Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal’s suggestion to hold the floor test by secret ballot.
Justice Sikri said it would be the call of the Protem Speaker to decide the manner of voting.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Karnataka government, stated that the Anglo-Indian nomination to the House would be frozen till the floor test is conducted.
In this regard, Justice Sikri turned to Mr. Rohatgi to say “you have to first prove your majority”.
Justice Sikri said the Governor had two documents before him — one, the letter of the Congress-JDS combine specifying that they had the majority. The second one by Mr. Yeddyurappa merely saying “I am confident that I will be able to prove majority on the floor of the House and provide a stable government. I have the support of others and requisite majority”.
“One one side, they (Congress-JDS combine) gave a letter showing proven majority... On the other, he (Mr. Yeddyurappa) has only claimed majority. On what ground did the Governor opt him over the alliance?” Justice Sikri noted.
Mr. Rohatgi termed the Congress-JDS a “unholy alliance” and quoted Mr. Yeddyurappa’s May 16 letter to Governor Vajubhai Vala, which said “as per the law and judicial precedents, the BJP being the single largest party is required to be invited to form the government”.
“It is the Governor’s discretion. He has to look at who forms a stable government. Sarkaria is only guidelines. Finally it is the Governor’s discretion to form a stable and popular government. We are the single largest party with additional support,” Mr. Rohatgi countered.
Countering Mr. Rohatgi, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi submitted that Mr. Yeddyurappa declared BJP was the single largest party in his May 15 letter to Governor even before Election had declared the election results.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the Governor’s discretion to invite somebody as Chief Minister is not absolute. “That discretion is circumscribed by constitutional dictum and law,” Mr. Sibal said.
Holding that the court, as the sentinel of democracy, should uphold the majority rule, Mr. Singhvi paraphrased how Mr. Yeddyurappa went to the Governor saying “I have majority and support from one ‘X’ which I cannot name. Give me a small window and I will manufacture a majority”.
On the other hand, he submitted, the Congress-JDS combine gave the Governor letters showing mutual support for each other and specifying their final number as 117, that is, well past the majority mark of the House.
“Can you now say the Governor applied his mind by first inviting him (Yeddyruppa) to form a govt and ignore an alliance with?” Mr. Singhvi asked in court
Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, who was permitted to intervene, said the “Karnataka Governor acted as a person and I am ashamed to say that”.
Mr. Mehta submitted that the Governor had never received any signed letter from the Congress showing 78 members’ support. He said there was only a letter annexing the names of 78 members, probably taken from the Election Commission website.
Mr. Rohatgi also joined in, saying he was even disputing the “signatures” in the Congress list.
“My Lords may not order the floor test for tomorrow. Preparations have to be made. A reasonable time should be given,” Mr. Rohatgi made a last-ditch effort.
“No comments,” said Justice Sikri, proceeding to dictate the order.