Karnataka: BJP, Congress MLAs spar in confidence motion debate

The BJP is apprehensive Congress-JD(S) might try to get the debate prolonged

Siddaramaiah CLP leader Siddaramaiah speaking during the confidence motion debate | Twitter handle of ANI

Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy on Thursday moved a confidence motion in the Assembly as the fortnight-long political drama in the state headed for a climax on the fate of the Congress-JD(S) government headed by him.

Facing a truncated strength caused by the en masse resignation of 16 ruling coalition MLAs, Kumaraswamy moved a one-line motion, saying the House expressed confidence in the 14-month-old ministry headed by him.

Seeking the trust vote, Kumaraswamy said the rebel MLAs had cast doubts about the coalition government across the country and "we have to tell the truth".

"The entire nation is watching the developments unfolding in Karnataka," Kumaraswamy said.

"While their (MLAs') resignation was in one line that their resignation was genuine and voluntary, in the Supreme Court, they said the state is steeped in corruption...," he said.

As soon as the motion was moved, opposition BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa stood up and said the trust vote process should be completed in a single day.

"The leader of opposition seems to be in a hurry," Kumaraswamy taunted Yeddyurappa.

The BJP is reportedly apprehensive that the ruling coalition might try to get the debate prolonged as much as possible to buy time in its last-ditch effort to shore up numbers before the voting is taken up.

Adding to the worries of the ruling coalition, another Congress lawmaker Shreemant Patil was not seen in the House, amid reports that he has been admitted in a hospital in Mumbai, where 12 rebel MLAs are corralled in a hotel.

Also, BSP MLA Mahesh, on whose support the ruling coalition was counting, also did not turn up in the House, amid reports that he was keeping away as he has not received any directions from the party leader Mayawati on the stand to be taken on the trust vote.

In a relief a day ahead of the trial of strength, senior Congress legislator Ramalinga Reddy said he would be with the Congress and support the government during the trust vote.

As Kumaraswamy began his speech after moving the motion, Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah raised a point of order concerning the Supreme Court order on the Karnataka political crisis on Wednesday, saying it had infringed upon his right to issue the whip.

Siddaramaiah said the Supreme Court had made no mention about the whip but said 15 rebel MLAs could not be compelled to participate in the session and the option was left to them to decide.

"It (court order) infringes on my right to give a whip under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution (anti-defection law)," he said.

Siddaramaiah's intervention led to frequent, heated exchanges between the BJP and Congress members.

BJP members alleged that the issues raised by Siddaramaiah were an attempt to prolong the debate and delay the trust vote. Congress and BJP MLAs, who were sequestered in resorts in the city fearing poaching by the rival camps, were herded together and brought in buses just before the Assembly began its proceedings.

Ahead of the crucial confidence vote to be sought by Kumaraswamy, BJP state president Yeddyurappa exuded confidence that the motion would be defeated. "I don't know what their party—coalition partners Congress and JD(S)—is going to do but we are 105. They will be less than 100. Hundred per cent, we are confident that the confidence motion will be defeated," Yeddyurappa said.

The trial of strength is taking place a day after the Supreme Court ruled that the 15 rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs "ought not" to be compelled to participate in the proceedings of the ongoing session of the state Assembly.

The court verdict was interpreted in political circles as a relief for the rebel lawmakers, as it categorically said an option should be given to them as to whether they wanted to take part or stay out of the Assembly proceedings.

The ruling coalition had held out the threat of using the whip against the wayward MLAs, citing the disqualification provision under the anti-defection law.

Armed with the court order, the rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs camping in Mumbai have said there was no question of stepping back on their resignations or attending the session.

As many as 16 MLAs—13 from the Congress and three from JD(S)—have resigned, while independent MLAs R. Shankar and H. Nagesh have withdrawn their support to the coalition government, putting the Kumaraswamy-led government on the mat.

The ruling coalition's strength in the House is 117—Congress 78, JD(S) 37, BSP 1, and nominated 1—besides the speaker.

With the support of the two independents, the opposition BJP has 107 MLAs in the 225-member House, including the nominated MLA and speaker.

If the resignations of the 15 MLAs—12 from Congress and 3 from JD(S)—are accepted, the ruling coalition's tally will plummet to 101, (excluding the speaker) reducing the 14-month-old Kumaraswamy government to a minority.

This is the third motion on trust vote in the Assembly after the 2018 polls yielded a fractured mandate with the BJP emerging as the single-largest party with 104 seats but failing to mobilise numbers for a majority.

Yeddyurappa had resigned as chief minister after being in office for three days before facing the trust vote in May last year.

Kumaraswamy, who succeeded him, had won the trust vote after forming the coalition government.

Congress and JD(S) had stitched a post-poll coalition and formed the government that has been wobbly from the beginning with fissures between the two parties on various issues coming out in the open frequently.

The dismal show by the Congress and JD(S) in the Lok Sabha polls made matters worse, exacerbating the crisis with disgruntled MLAs raising a banner of revolt against the goings-on in the coalition.

The BJP had swept the polls winning 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats and an independent backed by it bagging another.

Congress and JD(S) had ended up with a seat each.