Hours before the trust vote, Bopaiah passes the SC test

Bench rejects plea for a court-appointed Pro Tem Speaker for the trust vote

Updated - May 19, 2018 10:19 pm IST

Published - May 19, 2018 04:11 pm IST - NEW DELHI

 Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi addresses the media on issue of protem appointment issue, at Supreme Court in New Delhi on Saturday.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi addresses the media on issue of protem appointment issue, at Supreme Court in New Delhi on Saturday.

Pro Tem Speaker K.G. Bopaiah, the man chosen by Governor Vajubhai Vala to steer the decisive trust vote in the Karnataka Assembly, emerged unscathed by allegations of bias and “dubiousness” raised against him in the Supreme Court by the Congress-JDS combine, merely hours before the floor test on Saturday.

Faced with the prospect of a delayed floor test if they persist against Mr. Bopaiah, the Congress-JD(S) combine was stopped in their tracks when Mr. Vala and the B.S. Yedyurappa-led BJP government stated in court that the floor test would be recorded and telecast live.

The two parties hit a rough patch early in the hearing when a three-judge Bench led by Justice A.K. Sikri said the alliance could not ask for both remedies — examine the suitability and bonafides of Mr. Bopaiah and at the same time have the floor test at 4 p.m.

“You are in a zone of contradiction here,” Justice S.A. Bobde said. Justices Bobde and Ashok Bhushan explained that Mr. Bopaiah’s appointment could not be reviewed without first hearing him.

The court sternly ruled out a suggestion by Congress counsel and senior advocate Kapil Sibal to flex its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and appoint a Pro Tem Speaker. “You want us to appoint a Speaker? No,” Justice Sikri said.

Justice Bobde countered Mr. Sibal’s plea that the appointment of Mr. Bopaiah violated long-standing parliamentary convention that the “senior-most member” of the House should be made Pro Tem Speaker. “A convention is not law,” Justice Sikri said.

Justice Bobde referred to how Balasaheb Vikhe Patil was appointed Speaker Pro Tem in the 14th Lok Sabha despite seniors like Sis Ram Ola. Senior Congress leader Kamal Nath was appointed Pro Tem Speaker in the 16th Lok Sabha.

“So this convention has been broken many times in the past, has it not?” Justice Sikri asked Mr. Sibal.

“And 'senior most' does not mean age but the number of tenures someone has had as an MLA,” Justice Boobde said.

Mr. Sibal read portions from two separate judgments of the Supreme Court in 2011 and 2012, in which the court had set aside disqualification orders passed by Mr. Bopaiah. One of them involved Mr. Yeddyurappa himself. Mr. Sibal argued that Mr. Bopaiah has been brought in to “seize and manipulate” the floor test and this was a “replication” of defections, commonly known as 'Operation Lotus', orchestrated by Mr. Yeddyurappa in 2008 when he was short of majority.

“So, it's not just about his seniority in the House, but also his past record,” Mr. Sibal stressed as the hearing reached a stalemate.

The impasse was broken when Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Governor and the Karnataka government, informed the court about the decision to live telecast the floor test.

Justice Sikri reacted by, in fact, thanking Mr. Mehta for this information. Then, the judge turned to the Congress side to ask, “What more transparency do you need?”.

At this point, Mr. Sibal said he would not like to press his case further.

The hearing was finally wrapped up accompanied with a sigh of relief from Justice Sikri, who said that “at least now we can go and enjoy our holidays”.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, also for the Congress-JDS combine, rose to say that “hopefully, we will not bother Your Lordships on Sunday””.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for Mr. Yeddyurappa, said the Congress challenge was mere “political posturing”.

"You can argue all that now before the television cameras," pat came the parting shot from Justice Sikri.

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