New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday, while dealing with the appeal filed by five Indepdendent legislators, ruled all independent MLAs joining the Cabinet does not mean that they have merged with the ruling party nor can they be hauled up under the anti-defection law if they subsequently withdraw support to the government.

The appeal was filed by five Independent legislators challenging their disqualification by the Karnataka Speaker for withdrawing support to the B S Yeddyuruppa government.

Earlier, in the case of the 11 rebel BJP MLAs, the Apex Court had quashed their disqualification on the ground that they were not given sufficient opportunity by the Speaker to present their case before the action was taken against them.

However, in the case of the Independent MLAs, an interesting question arose as to whether by extending support to the ruling dispensation by joining the Cabinet or by their conduct do they also become Members of the ruling party?

The Karnataka Speaker took the stance that by their conduct and association with the BJP they have become members of the party and hence liable for disqualification under the anti-defection law.

However, the Supreme Court has dispelled the Speaker's notion by taking the contrary view.

"But the mere extension of support to Yeddyurappa and the decision to join his Cabinet, in our view, was not sufficient to indicate that the appellants had decided to join and/or had actually joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, particularly on account of the subsequent conduct in which they were treated differently from the members of the Bharatiya Janata Party," a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph said.

The Apex Court rejected the Speaker's contention that by joining the Cabinet the Independent MLAs have sacrificed their individual identities.

"We are unable to accept the submission made on behalf of the respondents (Speaker) that by extending support to Yeddyurappa in the formation of the BJP-led government the appellants have sacrificed their independent identity.

"The fact that the said appellants also joined the Council of Ministers does not also point to such an eventuality. It is no doubt true that an independent legislator does not always have to express his intention to join a party in writing, the bench said.

The Apex Court said it would pass a detailed judgement soon on its reasoning as to why the Independent MLAs have not lost their distinct identity.

The five MLAs-PM Narendraswamy, Venkataramanappa, Gulihatti Sekhar, D Sudhakara and Shivaraj Tangadagi were disqualified on October 11 along with 11 BJP lawmakers for expressing lack of confidence in the Chief Minister.

Of the five, four were ministers at that time. They were subsequently sacked from the ministry.

The MLAs contested the disqualification order on the ground that they were not BJP members and remained independents.

The Karnataka High Court concurred with the Speaker's decision and dismissed the Indepenendent MLAs plea, following which they moved the Supreme Court.

"We are, therefore, unable to sustain the decision of the Speaker as affirmed by the High Court and we, accordingly, allow the appeals and set aside the orders passed by the
Speaker on 11.10.2010 and by the Full Bench of the High Court on 14.2.2011," the bench said.

In the wake of the court's verdict, Karnataka Governor H R Bhardwaj recommended President's rule, a move stoutly opposed by Yeddyurappa and the top BJP leadership.

Agencies