Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala set a deadline of 1:30pm on Friday for chief minister HD Kumaraswamy to prove a majority on the floor of the assembly, likely setting up another political showdown before the final word is heard on the fate of the 15-month-old coalition government.
“The fact that 15 members have met me and tendered their resignations and coupled with 2 members have withdrawn their support and other attendant circumstances do prima facie indicate that you have lost majority/confidence of the House,” Vala wrote in a letter to Kumaraswamy released late on Thursday.
The governor said he hadn’t intervened in the matter so far because Kumaraswamy had called the assembly session and introduced a vote of confidence.
“However, it has been reported to me that the proceedings of the house on 18-07-2019 for vote of confidence has been stalled and consequently adjourned without reaching any finality. This cannot go on in a democratic set up governed by the Constitution of India,” the letter said, setting the deadline
The letter came after the Karnataka assembly, following a day of fractious proceedings, was adjourned until Friday without voting on the motion of confidence introduced by Kumaraswamy, whose Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government has been rocked by the mass resignation this month of 16 legislators, one of whom has returned to the coalition’s fold.
When the assembly was finally adjourned for the day, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to stage an all-night sit-in protest in the assembly against the delayed trial of strength, and plans to move the Supreme Court on Friday to ensure the motion is put to vote without delay.
“We will stay until the trust vote is decided,” BJP leader and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa said.
In the absence of 20 lawmakers, including 17 from the ruling coalition, who did not turn up for the day’s proceedings, Kumarawamy moved a one-line motion to the effect that the House expresses its confidence in the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government, setting the stage for a day of high drama.
Three adjournments amid acrimonious verbal exchanges and repeated disruptions by slogan-chanting Congress members ensued. Exasperated by the delay in the trust vote, the BJP sent a delegation to the governor to direct the speaker to conclude the voting process by the end of the day, a request the governor acted on.
Vala’s first note to the speaker the sparked angry reactions from ruling coalition members,who accused the governor of interfering in the proceedings when the House was in the middle of an important debate that, they said, needed to be completed without any external pressure before voting could take place.
“It might be a wrongly sent message but this amounts to interference in this House,” Congress leader HK Patil said before the final adjournment of the day, which the speaker ordered after consulting with the advocate general on the implications of the governor’s note.
Former chief minister and BJP leader Jagdish Shettar explained the party’s reasons for approaching the governor, “We have submitted a memorandum to the governor, requesting him to direct the speaker to go ahead with the trust vote and not take up other issues. Why did Siddaramaiah and Krishna Byregowda and others start debate on point of order?”
Much of the day was spent on debating a point of order raised by senior Congress leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who questioned the Supreme Court’s interim order on Wednesday that 15 coalition rebels could not be compelled to attend House proceedings. The coalition government has been roiled by the resignations earlier this month of 16 rebels — thirteen from the Congress and three from the JD(S) — and accused the BJP of engineering them; one Congress MLA, Ramalinga Reddy, has retracted his offer to quit.
To be sure, in its interim ruling, the top court gave the speaker a free hand to decide on the resignations by the 15 rebels and the disqualification petitions filed by the coalition partners.
If the resignations are accepted or the MLAs are disqualified, it would bring the strength of the 225-member assembly (one nominated MLA is allowed to participate in a trust vote) down to 209 and reduce the strength of the Congress-Janata Dal(S) alliance to 101 seats in the House. The BJP’s strength would be 105, giving it a majority.
Siddaramaiah claimed that the court order violated his right as Congress Legislature Party leader to issue a whip to all party lawmakers to be present in the House to take part in the trust vote. He demanded a clarification either by the speaker or from the Supreme Court before any proceedings on the motion took place in the House.
Siddaramaiah said the 15 rebel MLAs had been influenced by the apex court’s order that they can abstain from the assembly proceedings and asked the speaker to rule on the party whip he has issued to them.
“If this motion is taken up, then it will not be constitutional. It violates the constitutional provisions,” he said.
Congress’s Karnataka chief Dinesh Gundu Rao insisted that Siddaramaiah’s point of order needed to be debated on and couldn’t be skirted for the trust vote to take place, “Since our rights are infringed upon, he has raised this. This is a very important matter,” he said.
In turn, BJP members accused Siddaramaiah of using the point of order as a tactic to stall the main business of holding the trust vote, in which the coalition government 26 listed speakers from Congress and JD(S) alone.
The House also was rocked by Congress allegations that its legislator Shreemant Patil, who had been with the rebels at a resort and gone incommunicado, had been “kidnapped” as part of efforts to “topple” the coalition government. Senior minister DK Shivakumar said documents were available to show that Patil had been forcibly admitted to a hospital to skip the assembly proceedings.
Before the House assembled, Yeddyurappa exuded confidence of defeating the Congress-JD(S) trust vote.
“I don’t know what their party is going to do but we are 105. They will be less than 100. Hundred percent we are confident that the confidence motion will be defeated,” Yeddyurappa told reporters.