BENGALURU/ NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Wednesday said rebel Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) legislators cannot be forced to attend the trust vote, scheduled to be held on Thursday in the Karnataka assembly. The apex court’s order prompted a furious response from Congress, which accused the apex court of undermining the party whip and setting a “terrible judicial precedent".

The SC, hearing a petition by at least 15 rebel Congress legislators, said they cannot be compelled to attend the proceedings of the ongoing monsoon session of the Karnataka legislature, which is set to start discussions on a confidence motion moved by chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.

“SC’s order nullifying the Whip & by extension, operation of Constitution’s Xth Schedule to punish MLA’s betraying the public mandate, sets a terrible judicial precedent!" Randeep Singh Surjewala, the Congress’ national spokesperson wrote on Twitter.

“Blanket protection to MLAs, who are driven not by ideology but by far baser concerns, is unheard-of."

The SC, in its order said that the 15 petitioners “ought not to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session", putting the ruling coalition on the back foot and handing the advantage to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Looks like they (SC) have trespassed on legislators’ duties which might help the rebels," said one Congress leader, requesting not to be named.

While Kumaraswamy is trying to save his government, the coalition is also moving briskly to ensure that the rebels are disqualified even if the alliance does collapse.

Legal experts say the coalition can file a review petition.

Coalition leaders said that SC has not specifically mentioned the whip or even voting on the finance bill, scheduled to be passed in the ongoing session and that those who stay away will attract fresh sanctions.

A total of 16 legislators from the Congress and JD(S) have resigned since 1 July, and 15 of them approached the SC reiterating that their resignations should be accepted. Two independents have also withdrawn support to the coalition.

While assembly speaker and senior Congress leader K.R. Ramesh Kumar is yet to accept the resignations, the rebels have said they do not want to take part in the trust vote.

If the rebels stay away from the proceedings and subsequent trust vote, the coalition will remain at 100 (excluding the speaker) as against the BJP’s 107, that includes the support of two independents.

But the coalition is confident that senior Congress leader Ramalinga Reddy, the lone nominated member, will vote in favour of the government, taking its tally to 102.

The coalition is also confident of getting R. Shankar, the Pragnyavantha Janata Party (KPJP) chief, disqualified as the legislator had agreed to merge his party with the Congress, and will attract sanctions for siding with the BJP, which would bring down its tally to 106.

The coalition has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah of engineering the crisis in Karnataka by luring legislators with money and offers of plum ministerial posts as it has done in other parts of the country. The charge was, however, denied by the BJP.

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