The Supreme Court bench of Justices AK Sikri, SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan on Friday, May 18, ordered a floor test in Karnataka Assembly to be held at 4 pm on Saturday, May 19, for BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa, who was sworn-in yesterday (Thursday, May 17) as Chief Minister, to prove his majority.
The court also overturned the nomination of an Anglo-Indian MLA to the Assembly by Karnataka Governor soon after Yeddyurappa took oath, even as the newly elected were yet to take oath.
The court also ordered that Yeddyurappa cannot take any major decision before the floor test, the court said. The pro-tem Speaker will take decisions in accordance with the law on floor test.
The court was hearing a petition filed by the post poll Congress-JD(S) combine against the decision of Governor Vajubhai Vala to invite the BJP to form a government and to nominate an Anglo-Indian member to the Assembly.
Yeddyurappa was sworn in as Karnataka chief minister yesterday (Thursday, May 17) by Governor Vajubhai Vala on grounds of being the leader of the single largest party despite a Congress-JD(S) post poll alliance claiming majority in the Assembly.
The Congress and JD(S) had meanwhile challenged Karnataka Governor’s decision to invite BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa to take oath as chief minister. At a dramatic pre-dawn hearing that started after 2 a.m. and went on till 5.40 a.m., the apex court, while refusing to stay the Governor’s order for Yeddyurappa’s swearing in, said it the hearing of the case would continue and fixed the next hearing for 10.30 a.m. for today, (Friday, May 18). It asked for the letters given by Yeddyurappa to the Governor on the basis of which he was invited to form government.
Yeddyurappa was sworn in just about four hours after the order and, soon after this, the Governor proceeded to nominate an Anglo-Indian to the state assembly. The Congress and JD(S) immediately moved the Supreme Court, for the second time within hours. The court addressed that question as well at the hearing today.
The court asked for the letters from Yeddyurappa to the Governor. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Yeddyurappa, handed over two letters.
In the first letter, dated May 15, Yeddyurappa had requested the Governor for permission to form government, claiming he had 104 MLAs and the support of others, although he had not mentioned any names.
He followed it up with another letter the following day, May 16, requesting for permission to form government as the leader of the single largest party.
SC asked on what grounds did the Governor decide that Yeddyurappa could provide a stable government when rather than the single largest party, the Congress and JD(S) had given a letter showing majority in the state assembly.
Rohatgi said Congress and JD(S) MLAs would also support Yeddyurappa. The Governor invited the leader of the single largest party as there was no pre-poll alliance, he added and claimed Yeddyurappa would prove his majority in a floor test.
“I do not wish to tell the names of other MLAs. They will vote as per conscience… no doubt will prove majority,” said Rohatgi. He said that at present he could not say anything beyond the fact that Congress and JD(S) MLAs would support Yeddyurappa, who had been invited to form government and whatever had to happen next would happen in the House.
Justice Sikri said the issue was precisely that.
The SC observed that floor test on Saturday was an option. Justice Sikri said, ” Ultimately this is a number game.” He added that, “An alternative is floor test and tomorrow itself. We don’t give time for anybody.”
“The issue has to be decided. Let us have the floor test and issue on question of law will be decided later here,” he observed.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi of Congress said they were ready for the floor test tomorrow.
Justice Bhushan said arguments on the facts of the case would cause delay and it would be better if the floor test was held as soon as possible. That was the most practical solution. The court also assured security of all MLAs.
Arguing for Congress, Singhvi said Yeddyurappa has claimed in his letter that he has support of MLAs but had not taken names whereas the Congress had submitted a list of 117 MLAs along with their names to the Governor. Saying the Congress-JD(S) were ready for a floor test tomorrow, he said that the floor test be videographed and MLAs be provided complete security so that they could vote freely.
Rohatgi opposed a floor test on Saturday and, asking for more time, said it should be held on Monday.
The SC fixed the floor test for Saturday, 4 pm. It said no Anglo_indian be nominated to the Assembly before the floor test and ordered that Yeddyurappa would not take any policyy decision in the meantime.
It further directed the state Director General of Police to personally monitor security of MLAs. It said a pro-tem Speaker be appointed and he should administer the oath to all elected MLAs before 4pm and conduct the floor test.
After the order, Singhvi said it was “a great judgment”, adding, “10 weeks from now, the Supreme Court has also agreed to hear the larger constitutional case which asks if the governor can invite a party without majority.”
Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said the Governor’s conduct indicates that his decision is as per directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. “Giving 15 days to prove majority is unprecedented in the history of independent India,” he says. “It shows his collusion with the BJP.”
Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “The Supreme Court’s order on Karnataka floor test vindicates our stand that Governor acted unconstitutionally.”
Yeddyurappa said he is confident of proving his majority in the Assembly.
BJP’s Shobha Karandlaje said, “The party will abide by the Supreme Court order and “we are confident of winning the floor test tomorrow.” She added that many of the MLAs who do not want the JD(S)-Congress combination are in touch with them.
The Congress lawmakers will return from Hyderabad tonight or tomorrow morning, former Karnataka home minister Ramalinga Reddy told NDTV.
The Congress and the JD(S) in Karnataka had moved their MLAs from Bengaluru to Hyderabad, 569 km away, last night, “The central government was kind enough to refuse all permission for flights so taking the road,” former minister DK Shivakumar told NDTV during the overnight journey.
The Congress and JD(S) MLAs spent Thursday in two different hotels in Bengaluru. While the Congress flock was at Eagleton Resorts, the JD(S) leaders were at Shangrila Hotel. The move was aimed at preventing the BJP from luring them as soon as it became clear that Governor Vajubhai Vala was going to invite BS Yeddyurappa to form government.
The Congress-JD(S) combine responded by taking the battle to the Supreme Court that held a rare overnight hearing and took up the case again today at 10:30 this morning.
The three judges, Justices AK Sikri, SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan, also brushed aside the argument by the central government’s top law officer KK Venugopal that the anti-defection law kicks in only after a legislator takes oath of office. This is preposterous, the bench shot back. The anti-defection law bans lawmakers from switching political parties.