Karnataka politics
The Congress and JD(S) rebel MLAs have reached out to Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa seeking assurances on their future. | ANI File Photo
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Bengaluru: The 17 Congress and JD(S) rebels in Karnataka, responsible for bringing the BJP back to power in the state, are in a fix. The rebel MLAs, who were disqualified by the then Speaker Ramesh Kumar after they brought down the H.D. Kumaraswamy government, are nervous and worried that their political careers may be jeopardised if the Supreme Court does not provide them relief in time for the bypolls on 21 October.

The last day for filing nominations is 30 September, and if the Supreme Court does not overturn the disqualifications, the rebels will not be able to contest the elections.

Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that there is growing tension in the rebels’ camp and they have been pressurising Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, seen as the man behind their defections, seeking assurances on their future. Yediyurappa has reached out to the BJP central leadership to help calm the nerves of the rebels.

Senior BJP leader and Karnataka minister R. Ashok told ThePrint that the BJP will try every possible option available to ensure that the “sacrifices of the disqualified MLAs do not go in vain and will try and compensate them one way or the other”.

Sources in the party, however, said that the rebel legislators are at their wits’ end as they are worried that their political careers may be crushed if the BJP does not come to their rescue.

“They are very worried as the case on their disqualification not been heard completely,” said a senior BJP functionary on the condition of anonymity. “As the bypolls near, they may have to shift to Plan B, which is fielding their family members but this will put their careers on a downward path.”

The MLAs were whisked away to a resort in Mumbai and resigned en masse, eventually paving the way for Yediyurappa to form the government with a wafer-thin majority. The Congress and the JD(S) have alleged that the BJP poached the 17 MLAs through its infamous ‘Operation Kamala’ exercise.

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Their mass resignations prompted then Assembly speaker Ramesh Kumar to disqualify all 17 MLAs. The leaders have “incurred disqualification under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (anti-defection law) and the disqualification would last till the end of the term of the assembly — 23 May 2023”, the Speaker had ruled in July.

The legislators then petitioned the Supreme Court challenging the Speaker’s decision but the court only began hearing the case on 23 September.

Time is running out for the MLAs as the Election Commission Saturday announced by-elections in 15 of the constituencies in Karnataka.

Elections have not been announced in two of the constituencies — Maski and R.R. Nagar — as petitions regarding these seats have been pending in the Karnataka High Court since the 2018 Assembly polls.


Also read: Modi and Shah have been challenged for the first time — by Yediyurappa, of all people 


Time running out, back up plans crop up

With the Supreme Court asking the Speaker, the Congress and JD(S) to file their objections by 25 September, there’s little room for manoeuvre left for the rebel MLAs. Here are four possible scenarios for them:

Scenario 1: The legislators may have to wait it out until the SC passes an order on their disqualification. This may be time-consuming as the court is still hearing their petitions.

Scenario 2: The BJP has been putting in place a backup plan that involves giving tickets to the kin of the disqualified legislators. The state BJP has already made a list of probables who can contest the by-elections as proxies for the rebels. This, however, is against the party’s new unwritten rule of not handing tickets to family members as it encourages dynastic politics.

Scenario 3: The disqualified MLAs can also try and argue their way in court, seeking to at least nullify the Speaker’s order forbidding them from contesting elections. If the court upholds their request and passes an interim order, then the disqualified members can contest the bypolls.

Scenario 4: If the Supreme Court upholds the Speaker’s decision, however, it could prove to be a big blow to the Yediyurappa government and take it to the brink of collapsing. The BJP government, as of now, survives on a wafer-thin majority.

The ruling party has 105 MLAs in the 225-member Assembly, including the Speaker, or eight short of a simple majority. It has to win in at least eight of the 15 seats to remain in power. The Congress, meanwhile, has 65 legislators, without 14 of its disqualified MLAs, and the JD(S) has 34, with three of its members having been disqualified.

Political analysts, however, feel that the BJP will benefit if the Supreme Court does not intervene or upholds the Speaker’s decision.

“The BJP will be quite content if there is a stalemate or the SC upholds the Speaker’s ruling,” said the Bengaluru-based political analyst Sandeep Shastri. “If the ban on the rebels contesting is set aside, it will open a Pandora’s box of troubles for the BJP on how to accommodate them.”

Karnataka BJP spokesperson Vaman Acharya, however, told ThePrint that the BJP is hopeful of a favourable verdict. “We will do all that is possible and necessary to retain the government. We will try to have an understanding with the rebels that somebody from their side can contest on a BJP ticket,” Acharya said.


Also read: Alliance govt gone, Congress and JD(S) are back to being rivals in Karnataka 


 

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