Subject to people’s will: On Karnataka bypolls

Disqualified rebels should not be barred from bypolls in Karnataka

Updated - September 27, 2019 10:57 am IST

Published - September 27, 2019 12:05 am IST

With the Election Commission of India agreeing to defer byelections to 15 of the 17 vacant Assembly seats in Karnataka, the defectors from the Congress and JD(S) have got a breather. By the dint of this order, the question whether they can contest the elections will be answered by the Supreme Court before the bypolls. The rebel former legislators of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) had earlier this year resigned from the Assembly and were later disqualified by the then Speaker Ramesh Kumar. Following these actions, the BJP managed to get to power with the support of 105 of the 208 remaining legislators in the Assembly. The then Speaker’s actions disqualifying the legislators who had resigned till the end of the current term of the Assembly added a twist to the tale. This sent the fate of these disqualified legislators into a limbo, as it made it unclear whether they can contest following this ruling. Under the law (the Tenth schedule) though, it is not clear as to how the ex-Speaker could fix a period till which a member can remain disqualified and bar them for the rest of the assembly term. It is evident that the disqualified legislators should not be disallowed by the Supreme Court from contesting in the byelections for the seats.

However, the actions by the rebel legislators and the Speaker, cumulatively beg the question if the letter and spirit of the anti-defection law were undermined. It was clear that the legislators who quit the Congress-JD(S) coalition did so to curry favour with the BJP and to gain new loaves of power in the form of ministerial berths. The fact that the BJP government led by B. S. Yediyurappa has kept portfolios vacant in its council of ministers indicates that these seats have been kept warm for the turncoats. On the other hand, the Congress-JD(S) rigmarole of locking up legislators in resorts and hotels before trust votes, besides the machinations by the Speaker — sitting on the resignations for a long period and coming up with an unusual disqualification order — did not help matters. The fractiousness of the coalition had already led to a stasis in governance and had contributed to its loss in the Lok Sabha election and it is no wonder that the Congress and the JD(S) have decided to contest the byelections on their own. Besides deciding the future of the BJP government, which has a narrow margin of support in the Assembly, the byelections provide a good opportunity for voters of these constituencies to judge the parties and their representatives for their respective roles in the sordid drama this year. It is the people’s reasoned will that could ultimately bring a change in the political culture rather than just the implementation of the anti-defection law to regulate legislator behaviour.

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