Bengaluru: The Supreme Court is set to pronounce its verdict on the 17 disqualified Karnataka MLAs Wednesday, which will finally give the rebel legislators a clear picture on whether they can contest the 5 December bypolls or they have to wait until 2023.
The legislators had moved the Supreme Court on 30 July after then Karnataka Speaker Ramesh Kumar disqualified them under the anti-defection law until the end of the assembly term. The MLAs had all defected to the BJP to bring down the Congress-JD(S) government in the state.
Bypolls, however, will only be held for 15 of 17 assembly seats as the Election Commission has withheld elections in two seats, Maski and Rajarajeshwari Nagar, as there are petitions in the Karnataka High Court against these constituencies.
The verdict is being monitored with bated breath by all three major parties in the state — the BJP, Congress and the JD(S) — as the BJP government in the state enjoys a wafer-thin majority.
The Karnataka assembly is a 224-member House but the disqualifications have brought the number down to 207, putting the majority mark at 104. The BJP has 105 MLAs and is supported by an Independent.
The Congress now has 68 MLAs but 11 of those disqualified belong to the party. The JD(S) has 34 MLAs but three of the rebels belonged to the party. The other rebel set to contest is an Independent.
With the bypolls, the strength in the assembly increases to 222, bringing the majority mark to 122. The BJP needs to win six of the 15 seats to retain power in the state.
Also read: Medical college, roads, irrigation plans — how Yediyurappa is ‘campaigning’ for rebel MLAs
BJP jittery ahead of verdict
The Supreme Court’s pending decision has kept the rebel MLAs on their toes and the ruling BJP in a jittery state. The party has pinned its hopes on the rebel MLAs increasing its strength in the assembly but there have been setbacks since it assumed power in the state in July.
The BJP has been hit by an explosive audio clip that purportedly shows Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa expressing anguish at his party leaders over their opposition to handing tickets to the disqualified Congress-JD(S) MLAs.
The alleged audio clip also indicated that the rebel MLAs were kept in Mumbai during the final days before the fall of the coalition government under BJP national president Amit Shah’s watch.
Another reason that the state BJP needs the Supreme Court verdict to go in its favour is to ensure that its efforts to topple the previous Congress-JD(S) alliance are not futile and the BJP high command re-affirms its trust in Yediyurappa and his leadership capabilities.
As of now, sources in the BJP camp say, the chief minister is keen on fielding all the Congress and JD(S) rebel MLAs on BJP tickets, which has caused a a lot of heartburn to the long-serving leaders in the party.
Also read: Disqualified Karnataka MLAs find a new tool to woo voters — new districts
Dissent out in the open
The chief minister’s insistence on favouring the rebels has led to open dissent in the party.
Former BJP MLA from Mahalakshmi Layout S. Harish has expressed his disgruntlement at being denied a ticket while the son of the BJP MP, B.N. Bachegowda, has threatened to contest as an Independent if Congress rebel M.T.B. Nagaraj is given the BJP ticket.
“I am sincere karyakarta of the BJP, but I am also a man with self-respect,” Harish told ThePrint. “I will wait for the SC decision before announcing my further course of action.”
In the Gokak seat, which is at present being held by Congress rebel and industrialist Ramesh Jarkhioli, the BJP’s 2018 losing candidate Ashok Poojari has threatened not to campaign for Jarkhioli if the SC passes an order in favour of the rebels.
Raje Kage, a former BJP MLA from Kagwad in North Karnataka which is also going to polls, has now decided to join the Congress after being denied a ticket.
Karnataka BJP spokesperson Malavika Avinash, however, told ThePrint that there is bound to be resentment within a party when it comes to ticket distribution during elections. But all will be sorted in a matter of time.
“As a national party, we will not disregard the contributions and the work of our senior karyakartas,” Avinash said. “There is bound to be heartburn, anger and disappointment with such decisions. Let us wait and watch what decision the SC gives and then the party high command will take a call.”
The chief minister, however, has gone on record to state that “it does not matter who joins or leaves the party. BJP will win the bye-elections in at least 13 out of 15 constituencies”.
Clearly the message is clear from the Karnataka BJP — fall in line or the fallout may turn ugly.
Also read: The 4 scenarios for rebel Karnataka MLAs who are waiting for SC ruling on disqualification
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