Read Editorial with D2G – Ep 409

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Karnataka conundrum

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Meanings are given in Bold

The Supreme Court’s decision to ask the parties to the political crisis in Karnataka to maintain the status quo ( the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues )  until it examines the questions of law involved, is pragmatic ( dealing with things sensibly and realistically ) and expedient ( convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral) . The Speaker has been asked not to decide the issue of MLAs’ resignation or disqualification. An order has been passed when one of the questions to be decided is whether the court can give such a direction to the Speaker. It now transpires ( come to be known; be revealed ) that legislators can be prevented from resigning by claiming that they have incurred ( become subject to (something unwelcome or unpleasant) as a result of one’s own behaviour or actions ) disqualification.

It was argued in court that “the rebel MLAs are trying to avoid disqualification by tendering resignations.” This is astounding ( surprisingly impressive or notable ), as the penalty for defection is loss of legislative office. Quitting ( leave (a place), usually permanently) the current post before joining another party is a legal and moral obligation ( a debt of gratitude for a service or favour). Defection is condemnable ( to express an unfavorable or adverse judgment on), especially if it is to bring down one regime ( a government, especially an authoritarian )  and form another. But politicians cannot be tied down to parties against their will by not letting them leave even their legislative positions.

Even if it can be argued that two MLAs had pending disqualification proceedings against them, what about the rest? They say they tried to meet the Speaker, but could not. They may have been wrong to rush to the court without getting an appointment with the Speaker, but in the few intervening ( take part in something so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events)  days, their parties issued a whip ( take out or move (something) fast or suddenly)  to all MLAs to be present in the House and vote for the government.Converting resignation into a disqualification matter is an attempt to deny ( refuse to give (something requested or desired) to ( someone)) a member’s right to quit his seat in the legislature before joining another party, even if the crossing-over is a politically expedient measure.

The logic seems to be that a disqualified member cannot become a Minister without getting elected again, whereas one who resigns can be inducted ( admit (someone) formally to a post or organization ) into an alternative Cabinet without being a member. Accepting a resignation is a simple function of being satisfied if it is voluntary, while disqualification is decided on evidence and inquiry. The two should not be mixed up. The ongoing proceedings represent an increasingly common trend in litigation (the process of taking legal action ) on constitutional issues: the propensity ( an inclination or natural tendency to behave in a particular way ) of the political class to twist and stretch the law in their favour and leave it to the court to set things right. The Speaker already enjoys extraordinary powers under the Constitution.

In addition to immunity from judicial scrutiny ( critical observation or examination )  for legislative matters, such as whether a Bill is a money bill, presiding officers get to decide whether a member has incurred disqualification under the anti-defection law. Though the decision is subject to judicial review, many Speakers have evaded ( avoid giving a direct answer to (a question))  judicial scrutiny by merely not acting on disqualification matters. The question whether the Speaker’s inaction can be challenged in court is pending before another Constitution Bench. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have instances of Speakers not acting on disqualification questions for years. The current crisis in Karnataka has exposed a new dimension to such partisan  ( a strong supporter of a party, cause, or person ) action.

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