Sept. 10: As UPA legislators criss-crossed the country to remain a united alliance, the focus of the battle for Jharkhand shifted to the Supreme Court and the chamber of the Speaker, who is set to hear the disqualification petitions of three legislators tomorrow.
The three MLAs — Stephen Marandi (Independent), Anosh Ekka (Jharkhand Party) and Kamlesh Kumar Singh (NCP) — have moved Supreme Court with the plea to restrain the Speaker from acting on the petitions until the trust vote in the Jharkhand Assembly scheduled later this week.
The apex court has posted the matter for hearing tomorrow, when Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari has asked the three to appear before him in Ranchi. In case the three are disqualified, the numbers game in the Assembly of 81 members could change dramatically. As of now, the NDA has the backing of 38 MLAs, including the Speaker, and the UPA claims to have the support of 43.
The UPA is banking on the apex court passing a favourable order, which would ensure that the MLAs can vote in the Assembly.
The Speaker, however, has exclusive jurisdiction to decide on applications for disqualification under the anti-defection law. Generally, courts entertain such pleas only after the Speaker has taken a decision. Thus far, the Speaker has simply issued the notices and not passed even an interim order.
The UPA strategists swung into action to defend the three. Babulal Marandi, chief of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Democratic), of which Stephen is said to be the general secretary, said the outfit was yet to get registered as a political party. “The JVM-D will soon be registered as a political party,” Marandi said in Chaibasa. The anti-defection law is silent on members whose parties are not yet registered with the Election Commission.
The NCP said it had “freed” Kamlesh of the whip after his resignation from the Arjun Munda cabinet. “That the whip (against Singh) has been pending with the Speaker’s office for 18 months reflects his commitment,” said NCP’s Jharkhand working president Nesaar Khan.
Namdhari, who turned 64 today, was piqued when asked why there had been a delay in disposing of the petitions. “Nobody asks the court when it will deliver a judgment in a case. So why am I being asked such a question'” he said.
He said he had “spurned” the offer of the UPA to continue as Speaker in case the government fell. “I would be treated as a borrowed player in the UPA,” he quipped.
The index of Opposition unity went down by a notch or two today as the agitation to gherao the Speaker’s residence flopped badly with no more than 200 turning up.
“There is nothing to get demoralised about,” said state RJD chief G.S. Rana, trying to put up a brave front ahead of the Assembly battle.
His UPA colleagues from the Congress sought to calm their nerves by travelling to Rishikesh, tired of being holed up in a resort near Delhi.
“Except for Pradeep Balmuchu, Thomas Hansda and Gopal Nath Shahdeo, all six of us are in Rishikesh,” said leader of the Congress legislature party Alamgir Alam.
UPA sources said Ekka and Kamlesh, who had been camping in Kerala, have been asked to return to Delhi in view of the Supreme Court hearing.