Bangalore: The B.S. Yeddyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka on Monday survived a highly contentious trust vote and is now preparing for a battle of high political stakes to stay in power after the governor recommended its dismissal.
The stage has been set with a legal challenge in the Karnataka high court, due to come up for hearing on Tuesday, questioning the legality of the vote even as the BJP said it would, in a show of strength, “parade” all its 105 members of the legislative assembly before President Pratibha Patil.
In the process, it has also posed a vexing challenge to the Congress party, which leads the coalition at the Centre and has to decide on Karnataka governor H.R. Bhardwaj’s recommendation. If the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) does accept the recommendations it will be vulnerable to charges of destabilizing democratically elected governments in opposition-ruled states. On the other hand, if it returns the governor’s recommendations, it will politically strengthen Yeddyurappa’s hand.
Similarly, the BJP cannot move to defuse the crisis by effecting a leadership change as some legislators have demanded, since Yeddyurappa is still popular and belongs to the Lingayat community, around 19% of the state’s population.
The Union cabinet is due to meet on Tuesday, immediately after the high court rules, to take up the governor’s recommendation.
Meanwhile, in a day of acrimonious developments, the BJP government scraped through on a voice vote, even as the opposition Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) alleged that the speaker’s move to disqualify 16 legislators, including 11 rebel BJP and five independents, before the floor test on Monday was “unconstitutional”.
The BJP accused the governor of “partisan behaviour.” Bhardwaj, a former Congress leader, was the Union law minister in the UPA’s first term. The disqualified MLAs have appealed to the Karnataka high court.
Earlier in the day, Yeddyurappa, who was asked to prove his majority after 19 MLAs approached the governor withdrawing their support in the 224-member assembly, claimed to have won the trust vote amid chaotic scenes as speaker K.G. Bopaiah declared that the government had won a “voice vote”. The speaker announced the government had the support of 106 votes with none against. With 16 MLAs disqualified, the number of votes required to prove a majority was 105.
“We have clearly won the trust vote. Right from the day my government was sworn in, the opposition parties have hatched a conspiracy to bring us down, disrespecting the mandate of the people,” said Yeddyurappa.
BJP national president Nitin Gadkari said: “Despite the partisan and the unconstitutional attitude adopted by Congress and JD(S), Bharatiya Janata Party has established its full majority... and proved that any undemocratic step taken against the democratically elected government would meet the same fate.”
An analyst said the victory may “turn out to be pyrrhic,” with the prospect of President’s rule looming. “While the BJP government may have won the battle, it may yet lose the war. The BJP is paying the price of becoming a please-all party by welcoming even those who do not believe in its ideology,” said political analyst Sandeep Shastri.
The opposition cried foul.
“Democracy has been murdered by the BJP government in Karnataka and constitution subverted. No trust motion was moved by the CM. There was no division of votes as required by law. The government illegally deployed police personnel into the house to prevent duly elected members of the house from discharging their duties,” said senior Congress leader and leader of opposition in the state, S. Siddaramiah.
Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, who played a key role in coordinating the activities of the rebels, said the developments on Monday marked a “black day in Karnataka’s political history.” Kumaraswamy, a former chief minister, declined to say whether his party would make a bid to form a government with the Congress and the rebels, saying, “That proposal is not in front of us right now. We have only 28 members and are aware of our limitations.”
While the top leadership of the Congress met in the evening to discuss the options, its spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “The government is a minority government and it would be a complete constitutional travesty if the government is allowed to continue.”
Subhash Kashyap, ex-secretary general of Lok Sabha and constitutional expert, said the speaker’s move to disqualify the rebel MLAs was not unconstitutional because the anti-defection law gives him the final authority. “Whether he is right or wrong will be decided by a court of law. For the Centre, now the option is that the home ministry will consider the technical aspects and the cabinet will also deliberate and send it to the President... However, the government cannot direct a second floor test with observers because this was an ordinary motion for which a voice vote is perfectly legal, unless a member had asked for a division in the house, which apparently did not happen.”
A top Union home ministry official confirmed that it is preparing a cabinet note on the basis of the governor’s recommendation for keeping the assembly in suspended animation and imposing Central rule. At the same time, the home ministry is readying all the notifications in case the cabinet approves President’s rule.
Liz Mathew, Ruhi Tewari and Sahil Makkar contributed to this story.