Ready for the test? Kamal Nath with the Governor.

Ready for the test? Kamal Nath with the Governor.

SC orders Nath to face floor test by 5pm Friday; delay will lead to horse trading

Rebel MLAs unlikely to go for floor test; Nath says rebel MLAs in touch with him

Agency Report | New Delhi/Bengaluru/Bhopal | 19 March, 2020 | 11:10 PM

The floor test of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh should be held by 5 pm Friday, the Supreme Court says in response to a BJP petition that wanted an immediate resolution of the issue. The Congress government in the state has been on the brink of collapse since last week after 22 MLAs -- loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia, who quit the Congress and joined the BJP last week, sent in their resignation. Ordering the session to be reconvened on March 20, the court says, "There will be only one agenda - whether the government enjoys strength. The state of uncertainty in Madhya Pradesh should be effectively resolved by a floor test". The Chief Minister, whose government has a wafer-thin majority, insists that he has the numbers. But the 10-day adjournment of the assembly, which reconvened on Monday for the budget session, prompted the BJP to take the case to the Supreme Court.

In a major development amid the ongoing Madhya Pradesh political crisis, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a floor test in the state Legislative Assembly be held on Friday and the proceedings be completed before 5 p.m.

The floor test will be done by show of hands, it said.

A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justice Hemant Gupta said the test is essential to the political uncertainty in the state. The bench also directed the Karnataka DGP to provide security to 16 rebel Congress MLAs who may want to attend the floor test.

“The session of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly which has been deferred to 26 March 2020 shall be reconvened on 20 March 2020. The meeting to be convened shall be confined to a single agenda, namely, whether the government of the incumbent Chief Minister continues to enjoy the confidence of the House,” it said.

The court said that the voting on the agenda shall take place by show of hands, as the Governor having clarified by his letter dated March 15 that there is no provision for recording the division by ‘press of button’, and the proceedings shall be videographed and, if a provision exists for live telecast of the proceedings.

“All authorities, including the Legislative Secretary, shall ensure that there is no breach of law and order in the course of the proceedings and that the floor test is conducted in a peaceful manner,” it ruled.

The court added that the Director-General of Police, Karnataka as well as the Director-General of Police, Madhya Pradesh shall ensure that there shall be no restraint or hindrance whatsoever “on any of the sixteen MLAs taking recourse to their rights and liberties as citizens. In the event that they or any of them opt to attend the session of the Legislative Assembly, arrangements for their security shall be provided by all the concerned authorities”.

The top court will publish a detailed judgement on the matter latter, observing that the judgement will take some time on submissions made by parties in the case.

“The state of uncertainty in the state of Madhya Pradesh must be effectively resolved by issuing a direction for convening a floor test, bearing in mind the principles which have been enunciated in the decision of the nine-Judge Bench of this Court in S.R. Bommai v Union of India,” said the court.

The Supreme Court said it is not inclined to create a situation by giving two weeks time to Speaker N.P. Prajapati to decide on the resignations of 16 rebel Congress MLAs from Madhya Pradesh, as this gap period could become a ‘gold mine’ for horse-trading.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for the Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly contended before the court “please give me two weeks time to decide. Let the rebel MLAs come back to MP, to their homes”.

The apex court observed the Madhya Pradesh political crisis have become a national problem, not peculiar to Congress.

The court emphasized that irrespective of political parties, the Speaker’s do not decide such issues, where MLAs have offered resignation, in a time-bound manner.

Singhvi insisted that the rebel MLAs present themselves before the Speaker in Bhopal and then he would take a decision on their resignation within two weeks.

The bench proposed that the rebel MLAs could also be asked to present themselves before the Speaker at a neutral venue through video conferencing.

However, this suggestion was opposed by the Speaker’s counsel contending that no direction could be given to him to decide on the resignation in a time-bound manner.

The bench reiterated would the Speaker agree to the court appointing an observer to find out the free will of 16 rebel MLAs on their resignations. And, this process could be easily carried out through a video-conferencing, which would enable the Speaker to take a decision whether to accept or reject resignations within a day.

Speaker’s counsel insisted that even the apex court cannot abrogate his power by asking to take a decision in a time-bound manner.

The bench insisted that delay in taking a decision would eventually lead to horse trading and it does not want such a situation to arise.

The bench queried the Speaker’s counsel on Governor’s powers, and asked whether the House was in session and then if the incumbent government lost majority, under these circumstances, would the Governor have the power to direct the Speaker to hold trust vote on the floor of the House.

The Speaker’s counsel said the Governor cannot decide whether the government has lost majority or not.

Singhvi said: “The Governor has only three powers — to summon, yo prorogue and to dissolve the House.

“Governor cannot decide whether the government has lost majority or not, it is for the House to decide on this issue.”

The hearing was to continue after lunch break.

The rebel Madhya Pradesh Congress MLAs are unlikely to go to Bhopal for the floor test which the Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Assembly Speaker to conduct on Friday, a source said here.

“As the apex court gave the 22 rebels an option to attend the special session or not, they are unlikely to return to Bhopal, as their contention is they have already resigned from their Assembly segments on March 11, but the Speaker did not accept them so far,” the Congress source said on condition of anonymity.

Directing Speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati to hold a special session for the floor test on Friday by 5 p.m., the apex court division bench, headed by Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, directed the Karnataka police chief to provide security to the 16 rebel MLAs if they choose to attend the Assembly for the trust vote.

Of the 22 rebels, 16 of them filed a joint petition on March 17, seeking the top court’s direction to the Speaker for accepting their resignations as he did in the case of six of them on March 14, a day after Governor Lalji Tandon dropped them as ministers from the beleaguered Kamal Nath government on March 13.

“If the rebels don’t attend the special session defying the party whip, they will face disqualification under the anti-defection law, as they are considered to be legislators till the Speaker accepts their resignations,” the source pointed out.

The rebels, who have been staying at a resort in the city’s northern suburb since March 9, remain incommunicado with their party leaders, including Digvijaya Singh, who was prevented from meeting them on Wednesday by the police, as they were unwilling to meet him.

“We are seeing a replay of the Karnataka act being enacted in Madhya Pradesh if the party’s rebels abstain from the Assembly to skip the floor test to ensure the 15-month-old Congress government falls for want of numbers,” noted the source.

The 13-month-old Janata Dal-Secular and Congress coalition government in the southern state collapsed on July 23, 2019 after its Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy lost the trust-vote as 14 Congress and three JD-S MLAs resigned and abstained from the Assembly by staying away in Mumbai.

“Though the apex court directed the Speaker to convene the special session for the floor test by 5 p.m. on Friday, he may seek more time in view of the coronavirus scare and the central government’s guidelines to avoid gathering of people in large numbers in public places and his own reason to put off the budget session till March 26 on the opening day (March 16) after the Governor’s address,” added the source.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s reported claim that he is in touch with his legislators holed up in a resort in Bengaluru for the last 10 days, will finally be put to test in the state assembly that will witness a floor test on Friday.

Kamal Nath claimed in an interview that the MLAs “called me to say that they have been forced to record those videos…that is why I’m confident about my numbers.”

Referring to the 16 Congress MLAs who have tendered resignations to the state assembly speaker as “my MLAs”, Nath said no sitting Congress MLA had yet joined the BJP. “These are my MLAs until proven otherwise…If these MLAs were loyal to Scindia, then they would have joined BJP as soon as Scindia joined BJP,” he argued.

He said the rebel MLAs had so far only tendered resignations from the Assembly and not left the Congress. The ongoing developments were “just an event and not a crisis”, the chief minister claimed.

The Supreme Court had directed that the floor test be conducted by Friday evening and that the rebels were free to attend the House or stay away from the test.

Earlier the court had offered to create conditions to ensure verification of whether resignation by rebel Congress MLAs was truly voluntary and suggested appointing an observer in Bengaluru who can connect with the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Speaker on video conferencing for him to make a decision.

The Congress is yet to react to the Supreme Court ruling on the issue. The party MP and Supreme Court lawyer was asked if his party could go for a review petition. He said the party was yet to take a call on the issue.

The state BJP chief and Lok Sabha member from Khajuraho, Vishnu Dutt Sharma, had claimed that the ongoing political crisis in the state was an internal issue of the Congress.

Kamal Nath has been consistently saying that “this has happened because of the action we took against the mafia that was being supported by BJP”. “How is this an internal problem for the Congress? If these MLAs are not being held captive…if they are free, then why can’t they come to MP? They are being threatened, that is why they are in a resort,” Nath said.

Senior Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh have repeatedly asserted that floor-test can only be asked for if a no-confidence motion is proposed. Since the ongoing assembly in the state was already in place for the past 15 months, since it was not a new assembly, Congress has argued, a floor-test cannot be demanded.

Nath said he had not sent Digvijaya Singh to Karnataka. “He is a Rajya Sabha MP…it is incumbent on him to go to MLAs to seek their vote…he will even approach BJP MPs for votes. But Digvijaya has been treated like a criminal”.

For all of Wednesday, Kamal Nath kept telling reporters that he wanted to visit Bengaluru and met his MLAs. Now the scene has changed.

This was also part of the arguments made by senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for the Speaker N.P. Prajapati.

“We have been in power for 15 months…if we were not in a majority, then BJP would have toppled us on day one…BJP can call for a no-confidence motion. Floor test is for a new government without majority…we have proven our majority in the last 15 months….so bring a no-confidence motion against us. If they are so confident that they have the numbers, then why can’t they call for a no-confidence motion,” Nath said.

The CM claimed he had met Scindia just over a week before he joined the BJP. He had “not indicated any displeasure or reason to join the BJP.”

Regarding Scindia’s attacks on the ruling state government just before he switched parties regarding the alleged non-fulfilment of the promise to waive farm loans, Nath said, “I know that farmers are happy with us. We have proof.”

Amid the ongoing political upheaval in Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to accept the offer of the 16 rebel Congress MLAs to meet them terming it inappropriate, and also refused to send the Registrar General of the Karnataka High Court to meet them.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the BJP, contended before the apex court that it could ask the Registrar General of the Karnataka High Court to meet the MLAs under the direction of the court. Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the rebel MLAs, said MLAs are willing to appear before the Supreme Court.

A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justice Hemant Gupta, turning down the offer to meet the MLAs, saying: “We see the reason why you are saying that, but it would not be appropriate.”

The apex court also refused to allocate any judicial officer to meet the MLAs.

“We do not want to send our judicial officer into all this. The court is an institution. They will be exposed to unnecessary criticism,” it said.

Rohatgi responded: “I am saying make it (the meeting) live! Whether it is MLAs meeting the Registrar General of the Karnataka High Court or someone else, make it live.”

Justice Chandrachud reiterated the court wants to ensure these 16 MLAs are free to leave and free to travel anywhere. The top court has deferred the hearing on the matter for 10.30 a.m. on Thursday.

In the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Chief Minister Kamal Nath, said that they (the rebels) are of the Congress and he (Nath) wants to meet them.

Singh contested this argument saying the MLAs do not want to meet the CM and Justice Chandrachud told Sibal: “There is a problem with your plea for access; this is not custody of a child.”

Noting a recent apex court judgement asked the Speaker to decide quickly, the bench asked: “Tell us when you will decide.”

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing MP Assembly Speaker N.P. Prajapati, said he could not curtail the discretion of the Speaker, and can get back on Thursday morning.

Justice Chandrachud asked Singhvi that if MLAs appear before the Speaker and make a statement one way or the other, will the Speaker take a decision? “How does the Constitution decide on the genuineness of the resignation?” the court said.

As Singhvi said that the MLAs are not willing to appear before the Speaker, the bench said: “Tell us when will you decide?”

Singhvi insisted the due process has to be followed, which would consume a few days, as due to coronavirus scare, the Assembly is adjourned till March 26.

Justice Gupta said the Speaker could reject the resignation of the MLAs. “Who stops you (from rejecting the resignation of the MLAs). You had budget session on March 16, you (government) postponed the Budget session, and how will the state function?”

As Singhvi replied six-state Assemblies have been adjourned due to coronavirus scare, the judge noted that the members met that day (Monday).

As the top court emphasized that it is concerned about horse trading, Singhvi replied that they (rebel MLAs) are already in captivity. Rohatgi opposed these arguments claiming that the Speaker cannot talk like a representative of a political party.

Detailing on the conspiracy behind the resignation, Sibak said all resignation letters were mirror images, there were three writers for 19 signatories, and these resignation letters were carried to the Speaker by a BJP member. “Till date they have not resigned from the party,” he said. (IANS)