The implications of the SC verdict on the Karnataka floor test
With the Governor privileging the claims of the BJP over the JDS-Congress alliance, the Supreme Court has now directed a floor test on the evening of 19th May at 4 pm. Ever since the highest court decided to intervene in the matter, it was clear that it would be the judiciary which would play a key role in defining constitutional norms and practices.
The three judge bench of the Supreme Court took a clear stand on a set of issues. Yesterday, it refused to stay the swearing in of BS Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister but stated that it would look into the material evidence on the basis of which the claims of the BJP were accepted by the Governor. This possibly explains the low key swearing in ceremony at which no senior central leader of the BJP including its Party President and Prime Minster were present. This appears to be one of the few occasions when they have missed the inauguration of a new BJP government. Today, the court has directed that the Chief Minister prove his majority on the floor of the House by tomorrow evening.
A few instructions of the Court merit attention. It has stated that the government cannot take any major policy decision till the vote. This would possibly include halting any move to nominate an Anglo Indian member. It has also directed that the vote be held under the Pro Tem Speaker. While the counsel for the government sought more time for the vote, the same was not accepted by the court.
Further, the plea for a secret ballot was also turned down. These are definitely set backs for the BJP though its leaders are the state level exude great confidence. There is clearly talk of a few Congress MLA's shifting allegiance to the BJP. More important in this situation, is the undeclared strategies and MLA's targeted than what is openly visible. Both camps are marshalling all the resources and capacities at their command to tilt the balance in their favour.
Recent developments place the BJP in a dilemma. While they were keen to come to power, in order to retain power and manufacture a majority they would need to encourage Congress and JDS MLAs to resign their seats or abstain from voting or even align with them (BJP) during the confidence vote.
Any such move, which looks inevitable in order to remain in power, would impact on the image of the party and its leadership. Would it be courageous enough to adopt the route that Atal Bihari Vajpayee took in 1996, of resigning before the actual vote conceding that he did not have the numbers? That act of Vajpayee won both him and the BJP support and admiration and was instrumental in their success in the elections held in 1998. Would it be power at any price or accepting the fact that they do not enjoy a majority and gracefully withdrawing and thus earning for the party an important political dividend that can be encashed in the year ahead? We need to wait for a one more day for that answer.
(Dr Sandeep Shastri is a leading political scientist and Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University)
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