Karnataka has finally got a government, following a no holds barred election that produced a messy mandate. H D Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) heads it, hugely propped up by the Congress. With that, the curtain has mercifully been drawn on the inane chatter about political morality, murder of democracy, threat to the Constitution, danger to secularism and, whether the claim of the JD(S)-Congress combine to form government was rank opportunism or the BJP’s bid to cobble up a government was sheer foolhardiness. However, the three weeks of ugly political drama did raise some concerns that need serious introspection.
The institution of the Governor was made to look insipid. The Congress and its surrogates whiplashed Governor Vajubhai Vala and demonised him. His crime was that he chose to exercise his ‘discretion’ which was vested in him by the Constitution. He invited B S Yeddyurappa of the BJP to form government being leader of the single largest party and also gave him 15 days to prove his majority on the floor of the House.
The Congress obviously did not like the idea and rushed to the Supreme Court which directed the BJP leader to prove his majority within 24 hours and submit a list of his supporters to ascertain whether the Governor had erred in arriving at his decision. The rest is history.
The question is whether Governors can be trusted to exercise discretion ‘fairly’. The ‘fairness’ can vary from person to person and its applicability can wildly differ unless it is clearly defined by legal provisions. The Supreme Court also read the Governor’s ‘discretion’ differently and shortened the duration to prove majority from 15 days to 24 hours. Who knows, an authority superior to the Supreme Court might have set a different time frame for the BJP.
The heartburn will always remain wherever discretion is involved. But if ‘discretion’ has been consciously given to the Governor, we must graciously respect how he exercises it. Rather than treating him shabbily, it may be more sensible to withdraw the ‘discretion’ from him or lay down a cast-iron framework within which he must operate it.
The Supreme Court’s direction to Yeddyurappa to submit a list of his supporters is another cause of concern. It actually means that the Governor’s assessment of the BJP leader’s claim was flawed, obliquely hinting that judges and not the Governor would henceforth decide, who enjoyed the majority support.
It is not a bad idea. It will spare us witnessing bloodletting and hearing allegations and bizarre conspiratorial theories. The process of electing a leader may even become more orderly if elected representatives are made to travel to Delhi and parade before the judges.
Imagine what we may be in for, if Karnataka nautanki is repeated after the Parliamentary elections of 2019. The BJP emerges as the single largest party but falls short of majority. Narendra Modi stakes his claim, and the President invites him to form the government. Having tasted blood in Karnataka, the rag-tag group of Opposition parties then rush to the Supreme Court which sets aside the President’s decision and directs Modi to submit a list of his supporters. Voters of 2019 Parliamentary elections need to bear this in mind to save, whatever is left of separation of judiciary, legislature, and executive.
The whining over the time given to Yeddyurappa to prove his majority was also quite bizarre. It was argued that the BJP would use the time to horse-trade in MLAs of the Congress and the JD(S). Actually, Kumaraswamy was the first horse to be traded when he was offered the chief minister’s job by the Congress.
The real problem lay with the Congress stable which had too many restive horses, ready to bolt. Karnataka voters, on the other hand, were far more loyal. My cook told me that since the Congress had paid her family of four members `11,000, they would vote for the Congress candidate, though they liked Modi. Voters in eastern India are cleverer. They accept money from every party, swear by manifestos of all, attend rallies of everyone, but vote for the man they like.
It was obvious that the Congress and the JD(S) had not done their homework before assigning tickets. That is why they had to shepherd their MLAs in resorts as hostages and deny them connectivity with the outside world. Strangely, no one bothered about their right to freedom, privacy and liberty. No PIL was filed to get them released from captivity nor civil right activists took to streets demanding restoration of their fundamental rights. It was left to D K Shivakumar of the Congress to play his resort politics to perfection and save our Constitution and democracy.
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing