Bengaluru/New Delhi: The fate of 17 legislators who brought down the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S) coalition government by switching sides to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to be decided by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The order is also likely to further test the uncertain and volatile political climate of Karnataka. It holds the key to the stability and future of the 110-day-old B.S.Yediyurappa-led BJP government.
The 17 rebel legislators defected to the BJP after assembly elections in July but speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar refused to accept their resignations from the ruling parties. Instead, he disqualified them and barred them from contesting elections until the end of the assembly’s term in 2023.
The legislators challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court.
Byelections for 15 of the 17 affected seats are scheduled to be held on 5 December but uncertainty over the outcome of the case means that political parties have held back from naming their candidates.
Whichever way the verdict goes, it will not only determine the political future of Karnataka but also set a precedent on laws that govern defections at a time when politicians—both state and national—frequently switch sides.
This is even more so in Karnataka, which has become the epicentre of so-called “resort politics", where defecting legislators are bussed to a luxury resort and wooed with money and promises of ministerial positions.
All three major parties in Karnataka—BJP, Congress and JD(S)—are awaiting the verdict to finalize their candidates’ lists for the bypolls. The by-elections could determine if Yediyurappa will continue as chief minister or be forced to demit office midway for the fourth—and possibly last—time in his career.
The government needs eight wins from the by-elections to stay afloat.
Leaders from all three parties say that the BJP has prepared a contingency plan should the Supreme Court verdict go against the rebels, who allegedly resigned at the behest of the saffron party, or if it fails to win the eight seats.
Already on the back foot over reports that the BJP central leadership is considering replacing him, Yediyurappa, a 76-year-old Lingayat leader, has been granting hundreds of crores of rupees in grants to the constituencies going to the bypolls in a bid to secure wins for his party.
The Opposition parties too are embroiled in their own internal problems and power struggles.
The Congress has already assured a bypoll ticket to Raju Kage, a former BJP legislator who defected. By accommodating Kage, the Congress risks alienating its own cadre and face a possible backlash in these constituencies. The JD(S) appears to have softened its stand against the BJP, not only because it considers the Congress a bigger threat in its stronghold of old Mysuru region but also to save its party from being wiped out.
A JD(S) leader confirmed reports that a section of his party legislators were keen on supporting the BJP, if not switching over.
A. Narayana, political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University said that former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda-led JD(S) has seen the Vokkaliga community, its main support base turn against the party in the Lok Sabha polls and cannot risk any move that would antagonize its legislators.