BENGALURU: A day after the Supreme Court ruled that the 17 disqualified Karnataka MLAs are eligible to contest the election, the Bharatiya Janata Party ‘rewarded’ 13 of them by offering party tickets for the December 5 by-election. By-elections are being held in 15 seats left vacant by the disqualification of the JDS and Congress MLAs whose exodus plunged the previous HD Kumaraswamy government into a minority. Fourteen of the rebels were from the Congress and three from the JDS.
The disqualification was confirmed by the Supreme Court, but former Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar's order banning the MLAs from contesting polls till 2023 - the term of the current assembly - was cancelled. "There is a growing trend of the Speaker acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral. Further horse trading and corrupt practices associated with defection and change of loyalty for lure of office or wrong reasons have not abated. Thereby the citizens are denied stable governments," the judges observed, stressing on the need to consider strengthening certain aspects so that "such undemocratic practices are discouraged and checked".
Soon after the court's decision, the MLAs said they would join the BJP, and this was endorsed by Chief Minister Yediyurappa. "It is because of the sacrifice of these 17 legislators that I have been able to take oath as Chief Minister," Yediyurappa said, welcoming the rebels into his party. "As the Chief Minister along with the party president, I would like to assure you that we will keep up the promise made to you and won't betray you," said a grateful Chief Minister.
The legislators were disqualified under the anti-defection law as they refused to attend the assembly despite entreaties by the Congress and JDS, which finally lost a trust vote. The two parties had then alleged that the BJP deliberately lured the MLAs as part of "Operation Lotus". The BJP is confident of winning a majority of the 15 constituencies during the by-election. "We will win 15 out of 15 seats, let there be no doubt, I want to assure this to those joining the party...My greetings to former MLAs, who are also the future MLAs and Ministers," said Yediyurappa. The BJP, which has 106 MLAs, will need to win at least six seats to remain in power. The JDS and Congress have 101 members in the 224-member assembly, where 113 is the majority mark.
Senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah warned that the BJP will be "punished" if it fields the disqualified legislators in the by-election. "If you go by morality, the BJP should not give the tickets to them and they are not eligible to contest the election. Ultimately, the people will punish them," he said. Former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, who led the 14-month-old coalition government before it crashed in July, was also critical of the BJP.