Karnataka assembly speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar on Sunday disqualified 14 legislators from the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), removing the last remaining hurdle for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is scheduled to prove its majority in the Lower House on Monday, the day the finance bill is also to be taken up by the assembly.
Sunday’s disqualification takes the total number of vacancies in the assembly to 17, including the three legislators, Ramesh L. Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumathalli and R. Shankar, who had been disqualified earlier. This brings the strength of the House to 208, including the speaker.
“The respondents thus cease to be members of the Karnataka legislative assembly with immediate effect from the date that is 28 July 2019 till the expiry of the term of this assembly that is the 15th legislative assembly of Karnataka," Kumar announced on Sunday.
Kumar himself may have to step down if the BJP moves a motion against the speaker, but his ruling is likely to hurt the rebels and their aspirations of landing top offices in the Opposition’s rule.
The rebels have denounced the ruling and will challenge it in the courts.
It remains to be seen if more people from the coalition benches will abstain from the floor test on Monday. B. Nagendra, the Congress legislator from Ballari, is still in hospital. It also remains to be seen if expelled Bahujan Samaj Party legislator N. Mahesh will be present in the House during the vote.
The speaker’s ruling has helped the BJP to avoid a crisis. Chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa can prove his majority with just the BJP members and will not have to disappoint his own legislators by accommodating the demands of any new entrants for cabinet berths.
However, analysts say that the BJP might be in for trouble if the ruling barring the re-entry holds good. The party will have to now worry about winning most of the bypolls to retain majority when all vacancies are filled up.
“In case the ruling on disqualification on re-entering the assembly stays, the bypolls will be difficult," said A. Narayana, political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University. Yediyurappa will find himself as vulnerable as former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy did in the last few weeks if the coalition wins the majority of the seats in the bypolls.
The Congress welcomed the speaker’s decision. Some Congress members hope that Sunday’s ruling would deter party legislators of other states from defecting to the BJP.
“I welcome the decision of speaker to disqualify 14 MLAs. This honest decision of speaker will send strong signals for all the representatives in the country who might fall for @BJP4India’s trap," Siddaramaiah, the leader of the Congress legislature party wrote on Twitter.
Several BJP leaders, however, came out strongly against the speaker’s decision, further raising doubt whether the party was guilty of engineering the crisis and lending to theories that the political uncertainty in the state is far from over.
Besides, though Kumaraswamy has dismissed reports of a possible tie-up between the JD(S) and the BJP, members of both parties believe that the regional party led by former chief minister H.D. Deve Gowda will isolate the Congress to survive. JD(S) workers are apprehensive about partnering with the Congress as the alliance partners have for long fought a battle for dominance in south Karnataka.
The crisis, however, gives the Congress a chance to rebuild the party and turn it into a credible Opposition in Karnataka.
The political crisis has led to legislators from all three major parties not focusing on the drought, acute drinking water shortage and other more pressing concerns facing the state.