It’s a season for landmark Supreme Court judgments—indeed, a legal historian would be hard put to arrange them in a hierarchy of ‘landmarkness’, each one is that foundational in terms of what it means for the polity. The ripples set off by the Ayodhya verdict last week will have hardly settled down when another five-judge Bench of the apex court takes up—even as you read this today, November 14—a bunch of petitions relating to the reading down of Article 370.
Sandwiched between these, the case relating to the disqualification of 17 Karnataka legislators might seem to be of a pettier horizon and scale. But with the kind of knife-edge electoral results we have been getting with our fragmented, mobile vote-blocs, the verdict is likely to have a lasting effect. Especially given the less-than-stable mixes and blends turning up for government formation—think Karnataka, and now, Maharashtra. The forces of politics—cut-throat, amoral—that come into play in such contexts make it even more relevant.
In sum, the judgment was a balanced one. The court upheld the then Speaker’s decision to disqualify the MLAs (from the then ruling JD(S)-Congress dispensation) after they defied party whips and abstained from the trust vote, thus helping topple the HDK regime. This has handed a moral victory to the Congress-JD(S) side, who can now say their claims about the BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ have been proved right. At the same time, the court has ruled that it’s beyond the remit of the Speaker to dictate the term of their disqualification under the Tenth Schedule and has thus allowed them to contest the upcoming bypolls on December 5 (occasioned by their resignation). Happy news for the BJP? Well, not if you ask their old members who now face the prospect of ceding their electoral bases to renegades from the other side. Watch this space.