Supreme Court upholds 17 Karnataka rebel MLAs’ disqualification, but allows them to contest elections

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the disqualification of 17 Karnataka MLAs, whose defection had brought down the Congress-JDS government in the southern Indian state in July this year. The court, however, said that the then Speaker Ramesh Kumar was wrong in barring the rebel MLAs from contesting polls till 2023, end of the current assembly term.

Karnataka MLAs

The top court said that the Speaker had no powers to decide the term of their disqualification. This effectively means that all 17 MLAs can now contest the bypolls, announced by the Election Commission on seats vacated as a result of their disqualification. The Election Commission has already announced bypolls for 15 out of 17 assembly seats in December.

A bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari said that the resignations by the MLAs did not take the powers of disqualification by the Speaker.

Reacting to the Supreme Court’s order, former Chief Minister Siddramaiah said that this had exposed the ‘moral bankruptcy’ of the BJP. In a series of tweets, he wrote, “The decision of Hon. Supreme Court exposes the moral bankruptcy of @BJP4India leaders and the #disqualifiedmlas. #OperationKamala is now a proved act & there is nothing more shameful than this.”



His subsequent tweet read, “Hon. Supreme Court’s judgement proves that the MLAs defected the party with ulterior motives and hence their disqualification. The defection is not voluntary and not genuine. Once an MLA is elected in a democratic setup, they can’t switch parties as they wish.”



These MLAs can now contest elections, more likely as BJP candidates. The BJP, which has 106 MLAs in the 224-seat Karnataka assembly will need to win at least six out these 15 seats to save its government. The defection by 17 MLAs had reduced the number for the Congress-JDS combine to 101. Among those having defected in July were 14 Congress and three JDS lawmakers.

Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa may accommodate the rebel MLAs into his cabinet but the decision is bound to trigger resentment from the BJP camp. It remains to be seen how the local BJP leadership may react to the rebel MLAs’ being fielded as BJP candidates in the upcoming bypolls.

Bypolls for 15 Karnataka seats are scheduled to be held 5 December. The counting of votes will take place on 9 December.

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