Disqualified, yet qualified
ln Karnataka MLAs’ case. SC clarifies the law on the interplay between resignation, disqualification
It is not often that an adverse order brings relief along with it. Even while upholding the Karnataka Speaker’s orders disqualifying l7 defectors this year. the Supreme Court has allowed the former legislators to contest the December 5 by-elections to I5 Assembly seats.
The former Janata Dal (S) and Congress MLAs are now free not only to contest the polls. but may reap the benefits of their amoral 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 to bring down the JD(S)°Congress regime of MD. Kumarmwamy. The suspicion. not unfounded, was that they would get ministerial positions as soon as BJP leader 8.8. 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 contlict between resignation and disqualification. He now stands partially vindicated as his atgument that resignation could not be a ruse to evade an impending disqualification has been accepted. The Speaker was also hoping to keep the defectors out of any alternative regime as members disqualilied for defection are barred from becoming ministers until they get reelected.
The court’s exposition of the law relating to the interplay between resignation and defection is quite welcome. 0n the one hand. resignation does not take away the effect of a prior act that amounts to disqualification. 0n 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 resignation before accepting it, the court is clear that it is a limited inquiry. only to see if the letter is authentic and if the intent to quit is based on free will.
“Once it is demonstrated that a member is willing to reign out of his free v» ill. the Speaker has no option but to accept the resignation,” the court has said. This effectively ends the argument that the Speaker is empowered to consider the motives and circumstances whenever a resignation is submitted.
The verdict bemoans the fact that Speakers sometimes tend not to be neutral, and that change of loyalty for the lure of office continues dt me the anti-defection law. Identifying its weak aspects and strengthening the law may be the answer.