Karnataka political crisis: Can’t be pushed into a decision, says Speaker Ramesh Kumar

Ramesh Kumar meets 10 Karnataka rebel MLAs following the Supreme Court’s direction

July 11, 2019 10:42 pm | Updated 10:44 pm IST - New Delhi/ Bengaluru

Rush hour:  MLA Roshan Baig going to the Speaker’s chamber at Vidhana Soudha in  Bengaluru on Thursday.

Rush hour: MLA Roshan Baig going to the Speaker’s chamber at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru on Thursday.

Hours after the Supreme Court on Thursday asked Karnataka Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar to meet 10 rebel legislators from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) and take a decision on their resignations, he held a meeting with them.

However, Mr. Kumar insisted that he had a responsibility to understand whether the resignations were genuine and voluntary, as prescribed in the Constitution, and said the process could not be rushed.

“In the current political situation, I have to enquire whether they are voluntary. If I do not do it, I would have committed a mistake,” he told the media on Thursday after the nearly hour-long meeting with the rebel legislators, who flew to Bengaluru from Mumbai and rushed to his chamber just after 6 p.m.

Article 190

Mr. Kumar cited Article 190 of the Constitution as the basis of his decision to follow the procedure to enquire whether the resignations were genuine and voluntary.

“I am not responsible for it nor am I connected with the political instability in Karnataka... I am not under anybody’s obligation. I am obligated to the people of the State and the Constitution,” he said, adding that he could not specify a time frame in which a final decision on the resignations could be taken.

Mr. Kumar confirmed that all the 10 fresh resignation letters tendered by rebel legislators were in accordance with Rule 202 of the Rules and Procedure of Conduct of Business in the Karnataka Assembly. He, however, said he had not given dates for hearing to these legislators.

“During the session, I will ask the Deputy Speaker to sit in the chair during afternoon sessions to hear the rebel legislators,” he said.

Mr. Ramesh Kumar also said the entire proceedings were being videographed and would be submitted to the Supreme Court on Friday. “I have also sought clarification on the word ‘forthwith’ in the Supreme Court direction, besides drawing their attention to Article 190. All materials will be sent to Registrar General of Supreme Court,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court became the site of the latest face-off between the Speaker and the rebel legislators.

Hours after a Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked Mr. Kumar to meet the 10 rebel MLAs and take a decision on their resignations “forthwith or in the course of the remaining part of the day”, the Speaker urged the court to recall its order.

In an urgent application filed in the afternoon, the Speaker said the Court could not ask him to decide on the issue of resignation of legislators in a particular manner. Mr. Kumar said the court order hindered his ongoing probe against the MLAs under the anti-defection law.

However, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said that the Speaker’s application would be heard on July 12. The court had fixed the July 12 hearing to be apprised of the Speaker's decision on the resignations. In his application, the Speaker criticised the MLAs for casting aspersions on his dignity.

The battle for power in Karnataka reached the Supreme Court first on July 9 when the Congress and JD(S) MLAs jointly accused the H.D. Kumaraswamy coalition government of scams and maladministration, while blaming the Speaker for delaying acceptance of their resignations as a bid to prolong the life of the ruling coalition .

In fact, the Supreme Court had fixed a specific time (6 p.m.) for the meeting only after senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the 10 MLAs, said the Speaker was “in the habit of making himself scarce” whenever the spectre of MLAs wishing to resign comes into his view.

“And tomorrow (July 12), the Karnataka Assembly session starts. A whip has been issued by their parties, if they violate the whip, they face disqualification... The MLAs want to resign. They do not have to give a reason for their resignation. All they need is a formal acceptance by the Speaker of their resignation... They do not want to defect, they want to go back to the people,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted to the court in the morning.

In his application to the Supreme Court, Mr. Ramesh Kumar said the Tenth Schedule or anti-defection law casts a mandatory duty on the Speaker to decide applications for disqualification. Thus, the Speaker has to first enquire into whether the 10 MLAs concerned have incurred any reason for disqualification prior to the submission of their resignation letter on July 6.

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