Why is Yediyurappa taking on the Lok Ayukta?

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Poor Yediyurappa, a victim of his own habits.

The Karnataka chief minister is impulsive in his reactions, a habit which he has carried from his days as the chief of the state BJP unit and leader of the opposition in the State assembly.

He often puts his foot into his mouth and has a penchant for making promises, with no thought whatsoever of redeeming them. He is liberal with both.

These have often dragged him into a quagmire of controversies needlessly.

The latest one to surface has been the one in which he has pitted himself with the Karnataka Lok Ayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, over the propriety of the State government in constituting a judicial commission to go into the land denotification issue when the matter is already pending with Lok Ayukta.

From all points of view, this was an avoidable controversy. Only some time ago, Yediyurappa had achieved a tenuous  peace when Hegde had put in his papers, dissatisfied as he was with the manner in which the State government was hedging the demand for the grant of the suo motu powers of  investigation into the cases of corruption.

(Under the present rules, the Lok Ayukta can only act on the basis of a written complaint and in the absence of the same, he can’t proceed in the matter.)

In view of the public outcry over the episode, Yediyurappa had to seek the intervention of the BJP’s higher-ups, including the patriarch L.K. Advani in making Justice Hegde relent. Justice Hegde was promised that the needful action would be taken to meet his demand. But this hardly materialised in the days that followed.

What has happened is that the government has only met the demand halfway, leaving the main question unresolved.

It does not stand to reason why the Karnataka chief minister should open another flank for a fight, when he had won a reprieve by a whisker as it were from the party high command which wanted to give him the marching orders.

It has opened the raw wound of uneasy relations between the government and the Lok Ayukta at a time when the issue had almost gone out of the memory of the people.

One may concede that the decision to go in for judicial commission was an impulsive reaction from Yediyurappa in the light of the torrent of land denotification scandals involving his kith and kin which had prompted the high command to think in terms of asking him to quit. But the subsequent events have proved that it is a deliberate action.

In an unusual reaction, the State government seeks the status report from the Lok Ayukta on all the matters entrusted to it for enquiry, while the State government is known to be sitting over the reports already sent by Lok Ayukta, thus coming in the way of the enquiry reaching the logical end.

Not only those, BJP legislators have been let loose on the Lok Ayukta, with one of them demanding an apology from him to the CM and threatening to organise a demonstration in front of his office if it wasn’t forthcoming.  The action smacks of attitude of the political vengeance, which is uncalled for since the Lok Ayukta is not a political office.

It is not clear what Yediyurappa wants to achieve by this kind of action. One plausible explanation could be that he would like to complicate the matter by having parallel enquiry by two separate agencies, and create a legal conundrum to delay the process of enquiry one way or other.

Yediyurappa in his wisdom genuinely believed that the judicial enquiry would serve the ends more than the one conducted by the Lok Ayukta, nothing prevented him from having informal consultation to avoid any acrimony or needless controversy.

That Justice Hegde has been hurt very much by diatribe opened by the government is evident from his strong reaction.  Hegde, who is otherwise quite restrained and balanced in his remarks,  made an emotional remark that if the government so desired, it could abolish the Lok Ayukta by repealing the law.

Yediyurappa and his cohorts should understand that Lok Ayukta today enjoys better credibility than the BJP government and this is the one controversy they could have avoided on the eve of an electoral challenge in the form of the panchayat elections next month.

The inimical attitude towards the Lok Ayukta inherent in the State government’s action and observations cannot be hidden by any explanation made on behalf of the government. Moreover, there is hardly anything that government gains politically by throwing innuendos against the style of the working of Lok Ayukta.

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