Bengaluru: Karnataka speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar on Thursday disqualified three legislators, banning them from the Lower House till the end of the assembly’s term in 2023.
Ramesh L. Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumathalli and R. Shankar were disqualified under anti-defection laws that ban defecting legislators from contesting bypolls and entering the legislature for the duration of the assembly.
However, the speaker is yet to give his ruling on 14 legislators, leaving the state under a cloud of political uncertainty and likely pushing back any decision by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form the next government.
“I have taken a call and am convinced that the resignations (of Jarkiholi and Kumathalli) are not voluntary or genuine," Kumar said on Thursday.
Shankar, the legislator from Rannebennur, was disqualified after he agreed to merge his little-known Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janata Party (KPJP) with the Congress when he was to inducted into the cabinet in June. He had later extended support to the BJP, which attracted the disqualification provision.
The speaker clarified that the disqualified members could contest assembly polls if the state heads for another assembly election.
Kumar said he is still studying the other resignations and will come up with a ruling within the next couple of days.
The disqualifications came two days after the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy was defeated 105-99 in a floor test. The trust vote was necessitated by the mass resignation of coalition legislators who reportedly want to join the BJP.
Three legislators other than the 15 rebels had also stayed away from the trust vote.
The BJP is yet to stake its claim to form the government. State party leaders had cited the yet-to-be-passed finance bill as a reason to press its national leadership for direction, but the latter has not yet reciprocated.
The disqualified members can approach the courts to challenge the ruling.
The absence of a ruling on the 14 other resignations has further complicated matters. Technically, these legislators remain members of the House and have a valid vote. A section of the BJP leadership is apprehensive about how some of them may vote on return to the House and whether it could lead to an embarrassment for the party.
The state BJP, headed by B.S. Yeddyurappa, has twice earlier had to step down from government after being unable to muster up a majority. Yeddyurappa stepped down after just seven days in 2007 and was forced to resign after barely three days in 2018.
A delegation of state BJP leaders met the party’s national president Amit Shah and working president J.P. Nadda on Thursday in Delhi but the meeting remained inconclusive.
Apart from the technical and stability concerns, there is also the question of whether to go with Yeddyurappa for the top post once again, further complicating matters for the BJP.
The party also has to ensure victories in the seats that head to bypolls as a result of the disqualification of MLAs, a number that could rise depending on the Speaker’s decision.
The BJP fears that it will be as vulnerable as the coalition was if it hurries to form a minority government.
Former Karnataka chief minister and senior Congress leader, Siddaramaiah on Thursday hit back at allegations that he had instigated the resignation drama.
“Rebel MLAs are trying to shift the blame on me after widespread public backlash against them for betraying and back-stabbing both the electorate and the party. Everything will be clear when the dust settles but by then they would have bitten the dust," Siddaramaiah wrote in a series of tweets on Thursday.