As shenanigans in the Karnataka Assembly are exploding on the national political scene, a similar drama in Punjab has gone either largely unreported or shockingly under-reported. Several Punjab MLAs have resigned from the Assembly and some had even quit the political party on whose ticket they were elected, but the Speaker is sitting on their resignations for weeks and months.
While the Karnataka Assembly Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar had to be nudged and prodded by the Supreme Court to get moving and either accept or reject the resignations, the Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana KP Singh is merrily postponing the decision even as resignations of five MLAs of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are now piled up on his desk.
In Karnataka, the political crisis arose when 15 MLAs had resigned over a short period of four days, and the resignations were clearly linked to efforts to pull the rug from beneath HD Kumaraswamy government’s feet. In Punjab, the resignation drama has been going on at a more leisurely pace, and neither the MLAs seem to be in a hurry to ensure their resignations are accepted nor is the Opposition making much noise about it.
HS Phoolka, who was the Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly and one of the most prominent faces of the AAP in Punjab, resigned as an MLA on October 12 last year, that is more than nine months ago.
Phoolka had claimed that he had resigned because he was disgusted with the failure of the Amarinder Singh government to initiate action against former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and retired DGP Sumedh Singh Saini for their alleged role in incidents of sacrilege of the holy Sikh scriptures.
The lawyer-turned-politician, who proclaims himself as the warrior-in-chief fighting for justice in the 1984 anti-Sikh killings related cases in Delhi, had repeatedly issued warnings that he was set to resign. In fact, his decision to quit the Assembly was a highly public one, since he had earlier threatened on three separate occasions that he would quit if decisive follow up action was not taken in the wake of the Justice (Retd) Ranjit Singh Commission's findings.
So keen was Phoolka to quit as an MLA that a few weeks later, in December last year, he actually met the Speaker, Rana KP Singh, and submitted a letter to him, informing him in no uncertain terms that he had no intention of reconsidering his resignation.
"I have sent my resignation from the post of MLA vide letter dated 12.10.2018, but I have not received any communication from you regarding the same...Today, I am appearing in person to communicate that I have resigned as a Member of Legislative Assembly and request you to kindly accept my resignation. After accepting my resignation, kindly inform the House during ensuing Session which is commencing from December 13," Phoolka gave in writing to the Speaker.
Strangely, and since then, the Punjab Assembly Speaker has been considering the resignation, and Phoolka seems to be in no hurry to press for it. The Speaker has neither accepted the resignation, nor rejected it.
Meanwhile, Phoolka, who clearly could not have forgotten that he had quit four months ago and had also made it clear to the Speaker that he has no intention of rethinking his resignation, landed up in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha to attend the budget session.
The Speaker, who, one presumes, on his part, would not have forgotten that Phoolka had quit the Assembly in October 2018 and had submitted in writing that he would do no rethink over his resignation, made Phoolka a member of an important Punjab Assembly Committee on June 14 this year.
Phoolka’s successor as Leader of the Opposition, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, quit the Aam Aadmi Party in January this year, two days after Phoolka quit AAP, and formed his Punjab Ekta Party. On April 25 this year, Khaira sent his resignation as MLA to the Speaker to contest LS election from Bathinda. Surprisingly, the Speaker seemed to be in no hurry to take any decision, and, in fact, has now nominated him as a member of a House panel.
Khaira’s associate, Baldev Singh, the MLA from Jaitu, had also quit AAP to join the PEP and had fought the Lok Sabha polls as a PEP candidate. His resignation is also on Speaker KP’s table.
As of now, the Speaker, one believes, is trying very hard to find out whether Messer’s Shri Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Shri Baldev Singh, Shri HS Phoolka, Shri Amarjit Singh Sandoha and Shri Nazar Singh Manshahia, all MLAs, have quit of their own volition without any fear or pressure. By all estimates, he is taking a little too long.
Meanwhile, the constituencies of these MLAs remain unrepresented in the Punjab Assembly since people cannot elect a new MLA because the earlier one’s resignation has still not been accepted. There is no indication that a decision would be taken by the time the next session of the Punjab Assembly is convened in September.
The precedent goes a little deep in time. Manpreet Singh Badal had quit as an MLA and was thrown out of the Akali Dal in October 2010, formed a new political party with much fanfare and contested election but remained the MLA of Gidderbaha since the Speaker took no action on his resignation.
Now that Speaker has nominated Khaira, Baldev Singh, Amarjit Singh Sandoha (Rupnagar) and Nazar Singh Manshahia (Mansa) as MLAs of various house committees, the JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka should be feeling envious of the arrangement in Punjab. Meanwhile, Sandoha and Manshahia have joined the Congress, having defected hours before the 2019 election.
While the Speaker in Karnataka has a Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose pondering over how fast and by when, and adopting which procedures, the Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly is to take a decision on the MLAs’ resignations, the Punjab Assembly Speaker is under no pressure — not even from the MLAs who have quit.
A simple reading of the anti-defection law, as the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution is popularly known, says any MLA who leaves a political party or takes a public position against own party can be understood to have "voluntarily given up the membership of Assembly, and that the Speaker is empowered to disqualify such an MLA.”
item in the Hindustan Times’ edition of May 7, while reporting Sandoha's joining of the Congress, said, "Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana KP Singh, who represents the Anandpur Sahib assembly seat, is learnt to have been instrumental in the getting Sandoha to switch over."
The Tribune reported
on May 4 that "Today, he (Sandoha) left for Chandigarh in the morning along with Anandpur Sahib MLA and Punjab Speaker Rana KP Singh and with few of his confidants making it clear for the locals that he was set to join the Punjab’s ruling party.”
Rana KP Singh is a very conscientious legislator himself, as was evidenced by his initiative to voluntarily undergo a dope test at the Mohali Civil Hospital, a day after CM Amarinder Singh had offered to do the same in response to pressure from certain quarters that politicians should undergo dope tests. One can assume that he is currently neck deep in carrying out due diligence about the genuineness of the resignations before him with the same alacrity.
Political pundits can discuss till cows come home why the Punjab Assembly Speaker needs months to mull over the resignations of MLAs while the Karnataka Assembly Speaker must take a decision in a matter of days or hours, with the Supreme Court breathing down his neck. One expects that Hon’ble Rana KP Singh will at least be more sure about the MLA whom he accompanied to execute the defection.