A fresh mandate is the best way out for both Yediyurappa and the BJP.
More so, since this will create an elected and logical succession line in case age catches up with Yediyurappa before 2024.
Karnataka assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar’s decision to disqualify 17 MLAs – three earlier, and 14 more yesterday (28 July) ahead of B S Yediyurappa’s trust vote – is wrong in principle. While it is highly unlikely that the 14 Congress and three Janata Dal (Secular) or JD (S) MLAs had sent in their resignations without any promise of office in the next government, it is the fundamental right of any legislator to resign and seek re-election. If he is even denied this right, what freedom does any legislator have in our democracy?
The purpose of the anti-defection law is to deter legislators from party-hopping after being elected on one party’s plank, not to deny them the opportunity to seek a fresh mandate in case anyone believes another party or even an independent status is better.
The 17 disqualified legislators will challenge the Speaker’s decision in the Supreme Court, but no matter what the court decides it is obvious that disqualification for the entire term of the current legislative assembly – till 2023 – is draconian and undemocratic. No legislator can be denied the right to make his case before his own voters by the arbitrary decisions of the Speaker.
The Speaker can disqualify a legislator who has switched sides, defied a party whip or resigned from the assembly from joining a new ministry without being re-elected, but he cannot disqualify someone for such long stretches. Any disqualification cannot result in an electoral ban on someone seeking re-election. The right to contest an election is fundamental in a democracy, assuming the person is otherwise not ineligible; the Speaker’s powers cannot be extended under the anti-defection law to overturn this right.
However, in the short run the Speaker’s ruling prevails, and this means Yediyurappa will enjoy only a wafer-thin majority till the Supreme Court gives its final view. In the meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot count on the Speaker’s loyalties at crunch-time. If it seeks to replace him, which means losing one legislator to speakership, Yediyurappa’s majority becomes touch-and-go. In an assembly with 207 legislators, the half-way majority mark is 104, and the BJP with 105 MLAs cannot afford to lose one legislator to speakership.
The question for Yediyurappa and the BJP is this: do they really want to rule the state with such a thin mandate, and live dangerously for the next few months while the disqualification case is decided, or should they seek a fresh mandate?
In the past, the BJP was seen as a party with strength in certain limited pockets, and hence capable of reaching close to the majority mark based on its concentrated vote base. But as the Lok Sabha elections showed, it is also likely that the BJP’s reach now extends marginally beyond its previous geographical base in north and coastal Karnataka and parts of Bengaluru.
If the party really wants to rule unhindered for five years, it should get Yediyurappa to seek a dissolution of the assembly after winning the trust vote, and seek a proper majority of its own.
There are risks, of course. The BJP may again fall short of a majority, which means a return to the situation in May 2018. The more likely outcome is that it could garner a majority of its own, since the electorate may be fed up with the governance failures under a shaky JD(S)-Congress alliance.
Whatever be Yediyurappa’s strong desire to run the government on an as-in-where-is basis, the party leadership should persuade him to get a proper mandate if he really wants to serve a full term as Chief Minister.
Age may still prevent Yediyurappa from completing a full term even after a mandate, but the question is whether he wants to rule with credibility or with a sword dangling above his head, where his government can be threatened every single day by disgruntled elements in his own party, and the opposition can claim higher moral ground day in and day out, making it impossible for him to govern.
A fresh mandate is the best way out for both Yediyurappa and the BJP. More so, since this will create an elected and logical succession line in case age catches up with Yediyurappa before 2024.