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Respected AG stuns with secret-ballot plea

Are 'others' ghosts, asks Congress

Rohatgi

New Delhi: The Congress has described as "morally reprehensible" the BJP and government lawyers' plea in the Supreme Court for more time to prove majority in Karnataka and for secret voting during the floor test, alleging this was aimed at facilitating "horse-trading".

"Chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's lawyer Mukul Rohatgi pleaded for 10 days to be given to prove majority. He then came down to seven days when the court was reluctant," lawyer and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, who had represented the party in the apex court, said.

"Even after the order had been written, he pleaded for (time till) at least Monday. Why this desperation? What is the time needed for? Isn't time being sought for horse-trading?"

He wondered how Yeddyurappa could have written to the governor that he would be able to form the government with "others".

"Who are these others - ghosts? Even if the governor wanted to apply his mind, there was nothing available while the other side had 117 signatures. Arithmetical logic suggests the BJP had 104 and hence no ground for invitation."

Singhvi then turned the spotlight on a request that attorney-general K.K. Venugopal had made to the court.

"It is unfortunate that under the central government's instructions, the attorney-general - who is a great man - demanded voting by secret ballot during the trial of strength. This has never happened in history," he said.

"We know what the purpose of secret voting is. This tells another story of desperation: the highest law officer of the country is made to make such a demand."

Venugopal

Venugopal is widely respected for his knowledge of law and is not believed to have any political affiliation. Many Congress veterans were shocked at such a "preposterous" demand coming from him, especially at a time MLAs were being hidden in another state for fear of poaching and bribe offers of Rs 100 crore were being alleged.

Fear of the BJP's "money and muscle" hung over the Congress on Friday evening despite the favourable apex court ruling that has advanced the floor test to Saturday afternoon.

"Today's Supreme Court order vindicates our stand that governor (Vajubhai) Vala acted unconstitutionally," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

"The BJP's bluff that it will form the government even without the numbers has been called out by the court. Stopped legally, they will now try money & muscle to steal the mandate."

The Congress has fortified the security around its MLAs, who have been ferried to Hyderabad, as have the lawmakers from ally Janata Dal Secular.

There's a lingering fear that some of the lawmakers might be vulnerable to pressure from the law-enforcing agencies or to bribery.

Congress sources said that only one MLA appeared doubtful so far but they weren't taking anything for granted.

Officially, the party ruled out any hiccups. "All our MLAs are with us. There is no possibility of the BJP winning the vote unless they know magic," Singhvi said.

He also highlighted the significance of the court's decision to examine whether the governor had been right to invite Yeddyurappa to form the government when the Congress-JDS alliance ostensibly had a majority.

"For the first time, with such specificity, the rights and discretion of the governor will be examined. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear this after 10 weeks," he said.

"The basis for extending the invitation (to Yeddyurappa) will be examined thoroughly and we will win again."

Singhvi said that Yeddyurappa should not have taken the oath of office after the court had said at a pre-dawn hearing on Thursday that his swearing-in would be subject to further orders.

"What was the reason if not lust for power? There is no cabinet but he started taking decisions. The court had to prevent him from taking policy decisions," Singhvi said.

RESORT OWNER JOKE

New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s Karnataka hearing witnessed a few lighter moments. One was when Justice A.K. Sikri retold a joke: “In a lighter vein, I must say that I saw a message circulated on the social media in which a resort owner wrote a letter to the governor for formation of the government saying he has the support of 117 MLAs.” The joke, an indirect reference to Eagleton Resort in Bangalore where the Congress MLAs were staying, made the packed courtroom burst into laughter. PTI

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