Tuesday, 28 June, 2022
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Speaker or vote? Supreme Court didn’t give Karnataka Congress & JD(S) much of a choice

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Court says looking into pro-tem Speaker’s appointment would postpone trust vote, doesn’t pass order on manner of voting

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Saturday ruled that the Karnataka floor test scheduled for 4 pm will be telecast live on regional channels but it refused to interfere with the appointment of BJP MLA K.G. Bopaiah as pro-tem speaker.

The court held a special hearing after the Congress and the JD(S) challenged Governor Vajubhai Vala’s decision to appoint Bopaiah to conduct the trust vote.

The petitioners argued that Bopaiah’s appointment defied a long-standing convention of the senior-most legislator being appointed as pro-tem speaker. Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy and Congress state president G. Parameshwara respectively, also attacked Bopaiah’s past record as speaker.

“We have a reasonable apprehension that he might derail the entire process set out by this court,” Sibal said. He cited two 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court in which Bopaiah’s decisions as speaker were quashed as being arbitrary and lacking in basic constitutional values.

But the court declined to entertain the arguments against Bopaiah. “If you want us to go into the bonafides and suitability of the speaker, then we have to hear him too. Do you want us to postpone the trust vote?” Justice S.A. Bobde asked.

Sibal and Singhvi said that instead of postponing the trust vote, the court could modify its order and have an independent court observer conduct the floor test. Top government law officers objected to the proposal.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta then suggested that the entire trust vote can be broadcast live to ensure transparency and fairness, to which the court agreed.

Tussle over convention

Singhvi argued that as per convention, the governor ought to have appointed eight-time Congress MLA R.V. Deshpande as pro-tem speaker.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi countered this by saying that the BJP had proof of money laundering against Deshpande, making him unsuitable for the job. “There were Income Tax raids in his house right before the election where they found over Rs 2 crores. We have proof if the court wants. Do they want the governor to appoint such a man?” he asked.

No direction on manner of voting

Sibal also asked the court to direct that voting in the floor test take place by division. But the court did not pass any order on this.

The process would basically involve dividing the legislators to form two groups, which would indicate whom they support. The group that supports Yeddyurappa as CM would then move to one corner of the floor of the house and the other, supporting Kumaraswamy as CM, to another corner. The speaker would then count the votes accordingly.

This method would prevent abstentions by MLAs and would allow parties to literally keep their flock together.

Sources said Congress leaders fear a voice vote could lead to some of its members abstaining from the vote. In a voice vote, the pro-speaker Bopaiah could use his discretion to decide on the vote. It would also allow some MLAs to abstain as they simply have to not say ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay’ when asked to vote.

Abstaining from voting will lower the benchmark figure that is required to reach majority.

No show

The BJP is set to gain if Congress of JD(S) candidates, who have been issued a winning certificate by the Election Commission, do not show up to take oath or vote in the floor test. The MLA can take oath later without attracting anti-defection laws under the 10th schedule.

Since the candidate has not yet taken the oath, he is not yet an MLA bound by the party whip. Defying the party whip would attract disqualification under the law.

Sources in the Congress said two of their candidates Anand Singh and Pratap Gowda Patil are likely to distance themselves from the trust vote in this manner.

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