Is BJP bringing back legislators to Parliament surreptitiously?
The post-Karnataka-polls drama doesn’t seem to have ended and the election is emerging as a crucial one for Indian politics, wherein political parties formed a coalition to stop the centrally ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from coming to power in the southern state.
H D Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal (Secular) taking the oath on Wednesday as the chief minister of Karnataka and forming a government in alliance with the Indian National Congress should have ended the post-election drama and marked the beginning of a brand-new government. But it doesn’t seem to be going the easy way. A new controversy is brewing involving mysterious information being shown on the website of the Lok Sabha, or House of the People, lower house of the Indian Parliament.
As of writing this article, the Lok Sabha website shows Karnataka BJP leaders B S Yeddyurappa, B Sreeramulu and C S Puttaraju as sitting members of Parliament (MPs). But the catch is, all three of them have just won seats as members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in the state of Karnataka. So how is it that their Parliament seats are not being shown as vacant? They also took oaths as members of the newly elected state assembly. So how are they elected lawmakers simultaneously at the state and federal levels? Clearly, there is something deeply amiss here.
According to some vigilant Twitter users, the Lok Sabha website previously showed the Shimoga and Bellary parliamentary seats in Karnataka as vacant on May 21, but strangely enough, both Yeddyurappa and Sreeramulu are now back holding those seats. While some are saying this is a technical glitch on the website, it is strange how even after two days of pointing out this so-called glitch, it has still not been fixed.
The Indian constitution, under Article 101(2), clearly states: “No person shall be a member both of Parliament and of a House of the Legislature of a State and if a person is chosen a member both of Parliament and of a House of the Legislature of a State….” In short, the three above-mentioned people cannot continue being MPs. In the case of B S Yeddyurappa and B Sreeramalu, an official parliamentary bulletin dated May 19 already confirmed that the Speaker had accepted their resignations. There is no clarity about Puttaraju’s seat.
There are other reports doing the rounds that point toward a more sinister objective behind this “glitch,” that there is an attempt being made by the BJP to find ways to reverse the said resignations. That is because the BJP seats are now below the halfway mark (half of total seats) in the Lok Sabha of 272. After the two confirmed resignations, the seat tally is down to 270 from the 2014 tally of 282.
Does this mean the BJP has lost its majority in the Lok Sabha and thus the legitimacy to form government in the center? Not exactly. It’s important to point out that because of seven vacant seats, the halfway mark also gets reduced to 269 (excluding the Speaker), so if it comes to a floor test the BJP will still be able to prove majority without the support of other allies. The situation, however, remains worrisome for the party.
Four vacant Lok Sabha seats are set to go for by-elections on May 28, namely Kairana in Uttar Pradesh, Palghar and Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra and a single seat in Nagaland. If the BJP loses all four seats, their number tally will remain at 271 while the halfway mark will get raised to 271, bringing them to the brink of proving a majority come the monsoon session of Parliament.
If a situation arises where a no-confidence motion against the BJP is taken up in the next session, the party will have to rely on its allies to lend support. Currently, the tally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s seats stands at 313 members, a comfortable majority.
Although it seems likely that the BJP will continue to be in government in New Delhi, it will lose the sheen of being the majority party in the Lok Sabha. Perception-wise, that is a damaging situation for a party that relies so much on the show of electoral strength.
In the second half of the recent budget session of Parliament, high-voltage drama ensued when a no-confidence motion, which requires the BJP to prove majority in the lower house, was continuously stalled and not admitted. The Speaker said it was because of the ruckus in the house that she wasn’t able to count more than 50 members to admit the motion. Perhaps we will see a repeat of this in the upcoming session as well, basically rendering the no-confidence motion useless.
Until then, with no official word from the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the mystery behind the vacant seats being displayed as filled in remains just that – a mystery. The results of the by-elections due on May 28 will be closely watched, as they will only intensify this mystery as four more seats get filled and signal the path ahead before the national elections of 2019.