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Disqualified, yet qualified: On Karnataka rebel MLAs

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It is not often that an adverse order brings relief along with it. Even while upholding the Karnataka Speaker’s orders disqualifying 17 defectors this year, the Supreme Court has allowed the former legislators to contest the December 5 by-elections to 15 Assembly seats. The former Janata Dal (S) and Congress MLAs are now free not only to contest the polls, but may reap ( receive (something, especially something beneficial) as a consequence of one’s own or another’s actions) the benefits of their amoral ( lacking a moral sense; unconcerned with the rightness or wrongness of something ) crossover by getting a ticket from the ruling BJP.

Most of them had tried to resign from their respective parties in July, but the move was seen as a transparent ploy ( a cunning plan or action designed to turn a situation to one’s own advantage )  to bring down the JD(S)-Congress regime of H.D. Kumaraswamy. The suspicion ( a feeling or thought that something is possible, likely, or true ), not unfounded, was that they would get ministerial positions as soon as BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa formed a BJP government. The then Speaker, K.R. Ramesh Kumar, kept them at bay for days by refusing to act on their resignations. Ultimately, he disqualified all of them in orders passed on July 25 and 28 and said the disqualification would go on till 2023 — the end of the current Assembly’s term.

The Speaker’s stance was quite controversial as it appeared to create a conflict between resignation and disqualification. He now stands partially vindicated ( clear (someone) of blame or suspicion ) as his argument that resignation could not be a ruse ( an action intended to deceive someone; a trick)  to evade ( escape or avoid (someone or something), especially by guile or trickery)an impending disqualification has been accepted. The Speaker was also hoping to keep the defectors out of any alternative regime as members disqualified for defection are barred from becoming ministers until they get re-elected.

The court’s exposition of the law relating to the interplay ( the way in which two or more things have an effect on each other) between resignation and defection is quite welcome. On the one hand, resignation does not take away the effect of a prior act that amounts to disqualification. On the other, Speakers are not given a free pass to sit on resignation letters indefinitely. Under Article 190(3), a provision under which the Speaker has to ascertain the “voluntary” and “genuine” nature of a resignation before accepting it, the court is clear that it is a limited inquiry, only to see if the letter is authentic ( of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine)  and if the intent to quit is based on free will.

“Once it is demonstrated that a member is willing to resign out of his free will, the Speaker has no option but to accept the resignation,” the court has said. This effectively ends the argument that the Speaker is empowered ( give (someone) the authority or power to do something) to consider the motives and circumstances whenever a resignation is submitted. The verdict bemoans ( express discontent or sorrow over (something)) the fact that Speakers sometimes tend not to be neutral, and that change of loyalty ( faithful ) for the lure ( tempt (a person or animal) to do something or to go somewhere, especially by offering some form of reward) of office continues despite the anti-defection law. Identifying its weak aspects and strengthening the law may be the answer.

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