The Supreme Court on Friday ordered that the BS Yeddyurappa-led BJP government in Karnataka that was sworn into power on Thursday prove its strength on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly in a test at 4 pm on Saturday.
In doing so, the apex court cut short by two weeks the time that the Karnataka Governor had afforded Yeddyurappa in his letter inviting him to take oath.
Perhaps taking into account the decisions Yeddyurappa took immediately after coming to power, namely transfers of key bureaucrats and officers and a move to waive farm loans, the Supreme Court also said that he should not take any major policy decisions until the floor test was completed.
Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the central government, submitted the two letters that the apex court had ordered to be produced before it at the end of its marathon hearing on the Congress-JD(S) petition seeking the Governor's decision to invite Yeddyurappa to be declared illegal. One of the letters staked a claim to forming the government while the other thanked the Governor for his invitation. However, unlike the Congress-JD(S)' letter, the BJP's letter lacked the names of the MLAs whose support was being cited.
The representation for the government argued vociferously that the Congress' list of names was merely downloaded from the Election Commission website and didn't have adequate signatures. The Supreme Court at that point gave two options, saying that both sides could argue on the initial plea, i.e. on the validity of the Governor's invitation to Yeddyurappa, or they could have a floor test tomorrow itself.
After consultations, the Congress agreed to a floor test but the government's representation cited how they would have to 'get their flock together' while the Congress-JD(S)' MLAs had all been held at Kochi (actually Hyderabad). They asked time till Monday or Tuesday but the Supreme Court did not allow it, asking for a pro tem speaker to be appointed and for adequate security to be provided. Crucially, while the Attorney General asked that the floor test be held via a secret ballot, the three-judge bench of the Apex court ordered that the test be held via a show of hands. The court also ordered that a pro tem speaker would be appointed and the MLAs would have to take the oath before the floor test.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who had appeared for the petitioners during both hearings and was joined by Kapil Sibal on Friday, called the "interim" order "historic", taking care to point out and asking people to not forget that the court would continue to hear on their main contention, i.e. regarding the validity of the Governor's invitation to Yeddyurappa.
The hearing on Friday had taken place after the Congress-JD(S)' petition was admitted at 1 am on Thursday and heard immediately by a three-judge bench from 2 am to 5:30 am. At the end of that hearing the Supreme Court had refused to issue a stay on Yeddyurappa's swearing in, which went on at 9:30 am the subsequent morning, but had asked for the letter he had written to the Karnataka Governor based on which he was invited to form a government to be produced before it by 10:30 am on Friday.
The entire matter arose after the BJP emerged the biggest party in the Karnataka Assembly elections which were held on May 12 and the results of which were declared on May 15. However, the BJP's 104 MLAs fell short of achieving the majority figure, which is 112. The Congress and JD(S), with 78 and 37 MLAs, along with what appears to be two independents, formed a post-poll 'majority' alliance that would be led by the JD(S), which is the third-largest party, and staked a claim to forming a government under Kumaraswamy. Both Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy-Congress went to the Karnataka Raj Bhavan multiple times and staked a claim to forming a government. Kumaraswamy and the Congress also claimed that the BJP had made offers of large amount of money and cabinet berths to their MLAs in an effort to poach them.
On Wednesday, the Congress and JD(S) MLAs were taken via buses to resorts and hotels in Bengaluru to herd them together and 'keep the flock together'. After high drama, three buses containing Congress and JD(S) MLAs reached Hyderabad on Friday morning, just a short while before the hearing in the Supreme Court began. They will now have to return for the floor test.