MP Crisis: Can Kamal Nath Get 16 MLAs to Change Their Minds? 

The Speaker said that floor test can’t take place unless the MLAs are present in the House.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image of MP chief minister, Kamal Nath, used for representational purposes.
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The political crisis in Madhya Pradesh has devolved into a constitutional crisis now. The Budget Session, which commenced on 16 March, has been adjourned till 26 March by the Speaker amid coronavirus fears. This was followed by an uproar from the Congress party MLAs, with a ruckus being created by the Opposition benches.

The Governor’s orders of conducting a floor test were not fulfilled. The Governor, seemingly angry, said in the House, “All must follow rules.” He just read out the first and last page of his ceremonial address prepared by the Kamal Nath government.

Later, the BJP marched all its 107 MLAs (barring one) to Raj Bhavan, and protested against the Speaker’s ‘unconstitutional’ adjournment. The Governor reportedly assuaged the BJP MLAs stating that he knows how to get his orders implemented. In a rare event, the Governor’s address to MLAs was televised.

MP Going By the Karnataka Playbook?

Congress leaders have been saying since that the provision invoked by the Governor — Article 175 (2) of the Constitution — to call for a floor test, renders it a recommendation, not a direction, which will be taken up by the House for consideration.

The Kamal Nath government plunged into a crisis after 22 MLAs belonging to the Jyotiraditya Scindia camp resigned.

While Speaker Prajapati has accepted the resignation of 6 MLAs (who were ministers in the Cabinet), he has not yet taken a call on the others.

The 16 MLAs have not appeared before him despite calls. They were not present in the assembly even on 16 March.

The Speaker talking to reporters said that floor test cannot take place unless these MLAs are present in the House and a decision is taken on their resignations.

The entire turn of events is similar to the one which took place during the Karnataka crisis. MLAs resigned, Speaker dilly dallied on their application, Governor directed Speaker to conduct floor test which was ignored, and ultimately the Supreme Court had to intervene.

The Karnataka Sequence of Events

  • 18 July 2019: The Governor sends a message to the Speaker, “desiring” the trust vote be completed by end of the day. Later, he writes to the CM, directing him to prove majority by 1:30 PM on 19 July. The House is adjourned without floor test; BJP legislators sleep in the Assembly in protest.
  • 19 July 2019: The CM questions the Governor setting a deadline. The Governor writes a second letter to prove majority by the end of the day. Assembly adjourned to Monday amidst din.
  • 22 July 2019: Assembly adjourns close to midnight amidst protests by BJP on “delay tactics”.
  • 23 July 2019: After a debate that lasted till evening, the chief minister loses the trust vote by 6 votes.

Would Deferment of Floor Test Further Encourage Horse-Trading?

In the meantime, former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter, requesting the Court to direct the Speaker, to hold the floor test in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly within 12 hours of the passing of the order, and as per directions dated 14 and 15 March 2020 issued by the Governor.

The petition (copy with the author) submits that a 9 judge constitution bench in SR Bommai v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1, held that if the support to a government is withdrawn by some legislators and the government appears to have lost the confidence of the house, it is the duty of the Governor to direct the government to prove the majority by floor test.

It also highlights that in the SR Bommai case it was held that a chief minister’s refusal to test his strength on the floor of the assembly can well be interpreted as prima facie proof of his no longer enjoying the confidence of the legislature.

The petition contends that any deferment of the floor test will further encourage horse-trading, and would be in utter violation of the directions issued by the Governor, the law laid down by this court, and the spirit and basic structure of the Constitution of India. The petition is to be listed today.

Odds Are Stacked Against Kamal Nath Govt

It’s over to the courts now. It remains to be seen whether the Court orders an immediate floor test or gives time to the respondents (mainly Speaker and Government of MP) to file their representations.

Last year, two Independent MLAs of Karnataka, R Shankar and H Nagesh, sought a direction from the Supreme Court to the HD Kumaraswamy government to hold the floor test on or before 5 PM on 22 July. The same wasn’t taken up that day. The government failed the test the next day before the courts could intervene.

In Karnataka, the Governor had given 15 days to the BJP to prove majority. BS Yediyurappa had sworn in as CM on 17 May 2018. On 18 May 2018, while hearing the Congress’s plea against the Governor's decision to invite Yediurappa to form the government in Karnataka, the apex court said the “floor test seems to be the best option”, and it should be conducted within 24 hours by a pro-tem Speaker. Yediyurappa resigned on 19 May, as he didn’t have the numbers.

In late November last year, the Maharashtra government formation matter reached the Supreme Court.

Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as CM on 23 November. Sena-INC-NCP approached the Supreme Court for immediate floor test. On 26 November, the Supreme Court directed Fadnavis to prove majority by 27 November, before 5 PM. Fadnavis resigned before the deadline as he didn’t have the numbers.

The above two cases show that the Supreme Court has acted quickly in such matters; the turnaround time is hardly 2 to 3 days.

The odds are stacked heavily against the Kamal Nath government, unless the 16 MLAs who have resigned change their minds. Kamal Nath can just delay the inevitable, but not the inevitable from happening.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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