The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard a petition filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party seeking a floor test for the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. The state has been in a political crisis, with a collapse imminent for the Congress government, after 22 of its MLAs resigned last week.
During the hearing, the Congress claimed that BJP is destroying democracy by muzzling power and the BJP accused them of stalling the floor test which they could not win.
The case will be taken up for hearing on Thursday at 10.30 am.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh went to Bengaluru early on Wednesday but was detained by police.
Here are the day’s top updates:
4.15 pm: The matter has been adjourned and will be taken up for hearing at 10.30 am on Thursday, reports Bar and Bench.
4.10 pm: Maninder Singh says the MLAs’ are ready to appear before the Supreme Court. Justice Chandrachud tells him that it will not be appropriate.
4.07 pm: However, Singh says the MLAs’ do not want to appear before the Speaker. “It is a matter of our safety,” he adds.
4 pm: Justice Chandrachud asks if the Speaker is willing to take a decision on the rebel MLAs’ resignations once they appear before him, reports Bar and Bench. Singhvi says he will take the decision in one or two days after settling down.
3.50 pm: Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Speaker, says it is in the fresh Assembly that a floor test can be held, and that in a running assembly it is a vote of confidence or no confidence.
3.40 pm: Submissions made by Maninder Singh, the counsel for rebel MLAs’:
- Singh told the court that 22 of the MLAs held a press conference and declared that the decisions taken are on their own free will, and that has been sworn in their affidavits too.
- He said the right to resign is a Constitutional right, and questioned the court if the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Speaker can sit on the resignations. “Can he sit on the resignation, can he be choosy that he’ll accept some, not accept others because political game is going on,” he asked.
- Singh also argued that the Kamal Nath-led government has lost majority and a floor test must be held immediately.
- He told the court that the rebel MLAs’ do not want to meet the Congress leaders.
3.30 pm: Highlights of the arguments made by Mukul Rohatgi, the counsel for BJP.
- Rohatgi questioned why the Congress wanted the rebel MLA’s to come back to Bhopal, reports Bar and Bench. “So that they can lure them, do horse trading...Why do you [Congress] want to meet them [MLA’s] when they don’t want to meet you,” he said.
- He referred to the judgements of the Supreme Court in Karnataka and Maharashtra crisis cases. “These are all those cases where midnight hearing and Sunday morning hearings were held. These were times when Congress pressed for an immediate floor test,” he added.
- Rohatgi said if the Supreme Court does not want to meet the MLAs’, then the registrar general can meet them.
2.39 pm: Rohatgi asserts that there are videos where the MLAs claim they are not being held against their will, reports Bar and Bench.
2.38 pm: Rohatgi says the governor does not know where the rebel MLAs are currently, when Justice Chandrachud asks about their whereabouts.
2.19 pm: Justice Chandrachud says there are discrepancies in the affidavits filed by MLAs, which the court needs to take notice of. He adds that they need to ensure that the MLAs “aren’t being held captive”. Chandrachud says the bench is not saying the MLAs are being held captive, but that they need to allay any belief that this is true, reports Bar and Bench.
2.15 pm: The bench assembles post lunch. Rohatgi says the governor is required to make a submission to the president if he feels that the state is not functioning in accordance with the Constitution, reports Bar and Bench.
“There is a very limited question that the court needs to decide right now,” he says. “Alternatives that the governor should consider before proposing for President’s Rule under Article 356.”
1.20 pm: The rebel Congress MLAs in Bengaluru write to Karnataka’s police chief, requesting that no Congress leader be allowed to meet them to ensure that there is no threat to their life and security, ANI reports.
1.18 pm: Justice DY Chandrachud tells Rohatgi that the Speaker has to accept the resignations first and satisfy himself.
1.16 pm: Mukul Rohatgi, arguing for the Centre, says the Congress was responsible for “the mass murder of democracy” in 1975, Bar and Bench reports. “It is absurd that it’s being argued that hold bye-election and then floor test can be held,” he says. “This is not a case of defection. This is a case of resignation and here are people who have resigned and the duty of holding bye-election is that of the Election Commission, not Supreme Court.”
Rohatgi says the governor is the constitutional head of the state and it is his primary duty to ensure that the state functions in accordance with the Constitution. He says the 22 MLAs have said that they do not want to be with the Congress. “They have rejected to be under the banner of the party,” he argues. “Then what should happen?”
The counsel seeks an immediate floor test in the Assembly, and says the Kamal Nath government cannot continue for a single day as it lost majority, PTI reports.
1.14 pm: Highlights of arguments by Dushyant Dave, who appeared for Congress MLAs:
- “A very stable government had been functioning for 18 months,” Dave told the bench, alleging that the BJP was trying to destabilise the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had openly envisaged his vision of a “Congress-free India”. The chief minister and the Congress are concerned about the well-being of the missing MLAs, said Dave, according to Bar and Bench.
- Dave asked if a floor test can be ordered in the absence of MLAs in a parliamentary democracy. It was the BJP who produced the MLAs’ resignation letters, he said. Dave said the authenticity of the resignation letters needs to be verified by the Speaker. “The question today is about destroying the principles of democracy by using muscle and money power and Supreme Court will never allow it,” he told the bench.
- Dave told the bench it should not entertain the matter. “Tomorrow the party will abduct MLAs from states it does not have majority in and come to Supreme Court and say Supreme Court is bound by floor test,” he said. He added a Constitution bench should decide the matter so that such acts do not happen again.
- The counsel told the bench that Madhya Pradesh Governor Lalji Tandon does not represent the BJP and was expected to be neutral. “Governor said that he is confident that the Congress has lost majority,” Dave argued, claiming that the governor was overriding the Speaker. He said the governor had “no business issuing missives in the middle of the night”, and was nobody to decide on a floor test.
- Dave sought the deferment of trust vote till bye-elections are held for the vacated Assembly seats, PTI reports.
12.40 pm: A Congress delegation will meet Governor Lalji Tandon at 1.45 pm, ANI reports.
12.35 pm: The Congress’ lawyer tells the bench that the governor had no business to send messages at night asking the chief minister or the Speaker to hold a floor test, PTI reports.
12.31 pm: The Congress claims that the BJP leaders going to the Assembly Speaker’s home on Holi to give him the resignations of 19 MLAs shows their complicity, PTI reports. The party claims the BJP has used force and may invariably destroy democratic principles.
12.30 pm: The Supreme Court is hearing the BJP’s plea to hold a floor test in the Assembly.
The Congress’ counsel tells the bench that a probe is needed on the resignation letters of rebel MLAs submitted by BJP leaders to the Assembly Speaker, PTI reports. The party alleges that the resignations were extracted by force and coercion, and the MLAs did not act as per their free will.
The Congress claims the rebel MLAs were taken away in chartered flights and have been incommunicado in the resort that was arranged by the BJP.
12.01 pm: Chief Minister Kamal Nath, when asked if he will go to meet the Congress MLAs in Bengaluru hotel, tells reporters that he will if the need arises.
11.30 am: Digvijaya Singh, DK Shivakumar and Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Sajjan Singh Verma reach police commissioner’s office in Bengaluru, ANI reports.
11 am: Detained Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh, are being taken out of Amruthahalli police station, ANI reports. He says, “I don’t know where am I being taken. I should have been allowed to meet my MLAs. I am a law-abiding citizen.”
9.15 am: Digvijaya Singh has been taken to Amruthahalli police station in Bengaluru, ANI reports.
9.10 am: Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar tells ANI that the BJP government in the state is misusing its power. “We have our own political strategy, we know how to handle the situation,” he says. “He’s [Digvijaya Singh] not alone here. I’m here. I know how to support him. But I don’t want to create a law and order situation in Karnataka.”
9 am: Earlier on Wednesday, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh reached Bengaluru and was placed under preventive arrest as he sat on a sit-in protest outside the hotel where rebel Congress MLAs are allegedly holed up, ANI reports.
“I am a Rajya Sabha candidate from Madhya Pradesh, voting is scheduled for March 26,” Singh told ANI. “My MLAs have been kept here, they want to speak to me, their phones have been snatched, police is not letting me speak to them saying there is a security threat to MLAs.”
11 am: Until early last week, the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, which was formed in late 2018, had the support of 121 MLAs in the 230-seat Assembly – 114 MLAs of the Congress, and the rest being from the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and some Independents.
However, the resignations of as many as 22 Congress MLAs on March 10 have made the government’s collapse imminent. The BJP has 107 MLAs, while two seats are vacant. The story so far:
- Long-time Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the party on March 10, and was followed by 22 Congress MLAs loyal to him, who also sent their resignations.
- On Saturday, Governor Lalji Tandon ordered a floor test to be held in the Assembly on Monday, March 16. However, Speaker NP Prajapati on Monday adjourned the Assembly without a floor test till March 26 as a preventive step to contain the coronavirus.
- On March 16 evening, the governor warned the chief minister that if the state government “fails to prove majority in the floor test on March 17, it would be deemed that your government is not in majority”.
- Meanwhile, BJP leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, along with nine other BJP MLAs, moved the Supreme Court, seeking that a vote of confidence be held in the state Assembly. On Tuesday, the top court had issued notice to Nath and his government.
- Chief Minister Kamal Nath has urged Tandon not to hold the floor test as Congress MLAs are being held “captive” in Bengaluru. On Friday, Nath met the governor and told him that the BJP had indulged in “horse-trading” of legislators and had held 19 of them captive.