Madhya Pradesh Crisis: Anxious to avoid horse-trading in the State, says Supreme Court

The primary duty is to independently verify whether 16 dissident MLAs are holed up in Karnataka or have been held “captive”, it says

March 18, 2020 07:25 pm | Updated December 03, 2021 06:45 am IST - New Delhi

Senior congress leader Digvijaya Singh talks to police personnel as he tries to enter a club where the rebel MLAs from Madhya Pradesh are staying, in Bengaluru, Karnataka on March 18, 2020.

Senior congress leader Digvijaya Singh talks to police personnel as he tries to enter a club where the rebel MLAs from Madhya Pradesh are staying, in Bengaluru, Karnataka on March 18, 2020.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said its primary duty in the Madhya Pradesh political controversy is to independently verify whether the 16 dissident MLAs are holed up in Karnataka or have been held “captive” in the BJP-ruled State.

Also read: Rebels in Bengaluru speaking under duress, must be freed immediately: Madhya Pradesh Minister

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said Speaker N.P. Prajapati was yet to decide on the resignations of these absent MLAs and the Congress has accused the BJP of holding the MLAs incommunicado in Bengaluru. In such circumstances, the court had to devise a fool- proof mechanism to satisfy itself that the legislators were not being held against their wishes.

The court declined an offer by senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing the rebel MLAs, to arrange a one-to-one videoconferencing with the MLAs or have the Karnataka High Court Registrar General to check on them. Mr. Singh said TV channels had beamed visuals of the MLAs holding press meets to declare they were in Bengaluru of their own accord. But the court said it cannot decide cases from what was aired on TV. Mr. Singh then suggested bringing the MLAs to the Supreme Court but the court declined it as inappropriate.

The court said it was anxious to avoid horse-trading in Madhya Pradesh but senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for the Speaker, said the “horses are already in captivity”. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for the Congress, informed the court that senior party leader Digvijaya Singh was detained by the Karnataka police when he tried to meet the legislators.

Also read: Allow 16 rebel Congress MLAs freedom to take decision without fear: Kamal Nath to Governor

“The duty of an MLA, as per his own oath, is not to run away when somebody promises him a chartered flight and a beautiful hotel stay. His duty is to the people,” Mr. Dave submitted. He said stable governance should become a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

Kamal Nath’s plea

Chief Minister Kamal Nath, represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, insisted on the court allowing him to meet the MLAs. “I am a member of the Congress party. I am the Chief Minister. I want to meet them”.

But Justice Chandrachud responded that “there is a problem with your plea for access, this is not like the custody of a child”.

The BJP, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, said “the MLAs have already made it amply clear to the Congress that ‘we do not want to go with you to Bhopal or even look at you’”. It said a floor test should be held immediately. Governor Lalji Tandon had written a stern letter to Mr. Nath to hold the floor test or accept that his government was in the minority

Mr. Rohatgi said it was Mr. Nath’s “lust for power” that led to the adjournment of the March 16 floor test in the name of COVID-19. Mr. Rohatgi denied Mr. Singhvi’s argument that the Governor was trying to “short-circuit” the power of the Speaker to run the Assembly.

“It is the duty of the Governor to see that governance continues as per the Constitution,” Mr. Rohatgi argued. He pooh-poohed the Congress’s claim that by-elections should be held in six months if the Speaker acceptedthe resignation of all 22 MLAs (16 rebel MLAs in Bengaluru and six State Cabinet Ministers whose resignations were accepted by the Speaker).

“They [Congress] have lost the moral, constitutional right to continue in the government. The letters of resignation of the 22 MLAs are identical. They [rebel MLAs] don't want to be MLAs or in the government. To hold a by-election is not the duty of the court,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted. He urged the court to order a floor test without delay.

Hearing will resume on March 19.

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