When the Supreme Court Came to Legitimise 'Resort Politics'

The court has set a precedent that resignations can now be sent by MLAs from anywhere and the speaker would be bound to accept them without their physical presence being a requirement.

There is a certain inevitability about the BJP’s heavy machinery once it starts moving. After Arunachal Pradesh and Goa, home minister Amit Shah has favoured staying behind the scene and has let state leaders carry out defections, resignations and whatever else they can manage to bring down Congress-led or supported governments. In a repeat of the Karnataka episode, the BJP has managed to bring down the Kamal Nath-led government in Madhya Pradesh.

Nath preferred to resign after it became clear that the 16 horses which had bolted would remain in the BJP’s stable. The speaker N.P. Prajapati accepted their resignations after the Supreme Court decision yesterday. With Sharad Kol of the BJP resigning, 25 seats in the Vidhan Sabha are now vacant reducing the mid-way mark to 104 which the BJP will easily cross with 106 seats.

The Supreme Court had perhaps the best chance in decades to set some notable precedents for Indian democracy in view of the large scale application of “resort politics” but after two days of hearing the case, the court directed the speaker to hold the assembly session on Friday with only the floor test on its agenda. It did not concern itself with the whys and wherefores of resort politics and it did not even want to know why the MLAs had resigned.

Also read: Kamal Nath Resigns Ahead of Floor Test

Instead, it felt that “14 days time will be like a gold mine for the Nath government”. In the midst of the coronavirus scare, the closure of schools, colleges, exams and the postponement of several state assemblies, as far as the petitioner Shivraj Singh Chouhan was concerned, it was a fair decision. The apex court offered to “mediate” and start a dialogue with the 22 rebels holed up in Karnataka but it did not go so far as to order them to appear before the speaker or “on the floor of the assembly”.

It sets a confirmed precedent that resignations can now be sent by MLAs via video from anywhere and the speaker will be bound to accept them without their physical presence being a requirement. The court has set a precedent now that it can offer to mediate between the speaker and a bunch of rebels holed up at any resort. It has set a precedent now that the governor can interfere with the functioning of the assembly if opposition leaders carry a stack of resignations to him or if the resignations are e-mailed or sent via WhatsApp to him. He will simply forward them to the chief minister and ask him to prove his majority every time.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath along with Congress party MLAs during the budget session of state assembly, in Bhopal, March 16, 2020. Photo: PTI

Prajapati may have erred in accepting the resignation of six out of 22 rebels in the first place. The six rebels were ministers whose resignations from the cabinet had been recommended by Kamal Nath to the governor but if it was used by Prajapati as a psychological weapon to scare off the rest, it proved quite ineffective. Prajapati issued a notice to them to appear before him personally which they ignored and instead sent across videos – which was clearly being encouraged by their BJP minders. The Supreme Court ignored all this evidence or did not go into it at all.

Also read: In Karnataka MLA Limbavali, BJP Finds Its Custodian for Rebel Madhya Pradesh MLAs

The Congress, on its part, has proved that it is so far behind in the planning and execution of plans in this new political era that it will now be very difficult for the party to save even duly elected governments. It just doesn’t have the wherewithal. While the Karnataka Police went out of its way to deter Nath’s ministers, and even Digvijaya Singh, from meeting the MLAs, the Madhya Pradesh police refused to take note of complaints by an MLA’s family that he had been kidnapped. Instead, it accepted the videos as authentic, without verifying them. The writing was on the wall for Nath.

As chief minister and PCC president Nath did not travel much across the state, he outsourced the task to Digvijay Singh. Both will now, in another uphill task, have to come up with some radical plans to win back as many seats as possible out of the 25 that go to polls next.