The stunning moral collapse of BJP in Karnataka

The hi-decibel war-of-swear-words between the governor of Karnataka, H.R. Bharadwaj, and the chief minister, B.S. Yediyurappa, over the issue of the former’s go-ahead for the latter’s prosecution on corruption charges, has played out on expected lines. (So far.)

Lost in the thickets of ideology, party affiliation, and mutual name-calling and finger-wagging, is the life-source of a functioning democracy: political morality, both as a virtue to practise and as an ideal to pursue.

Dinesh Amin Mattu, associate editor of the Kannada daily Praja Vani, makes a much-required intervention in today’s paper on how the BJP has squandered the high moral ground. Translated from the original Kannada by Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, and reproduced here in full with the permission of the publishers.

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By DINESH AMIN MATTU

Hansraj Bharadwaj, the governor of Karnataka, may have committed a hundred-and-one sins in his prior political life. Every time the Indira Gandhi family was in trouble, the ever-loyal Bharadwaj may have dutifully trodded on a path, legitimate and illegitimate, to save his masters.

After coming to the State, he may not have missed any opportunity to criticise the BJP government. His frequent loose talk may also not have been appropriate for the high office of governor. Despite all this, can we conclude that all the decisions taken by him are ‘tainted’?

This, indeed, is the claim of the chief Minister, B.S.Yediyurappa, and the BJP leaders. Their constant refrain is that the “governor is a ‘Congress Agent’ and therefore his decisions are not to be honoured.”

How the ruling party has arrived at the ‘Congress Agent’ charge, we do not know. But if Bharadwaj becomes a ‘Congress Agent’ simply because he was a member of the Congress party, then are all the governors who were appointed by the BJP-led NDA during its six-year regime ‘BJP Agents’?

Wasn’t Bharadwaj appointed to the governorship because he has all the qualifications that the Constitution stipulates? If there have been any errors committed on that front, surely the BJP leaders could have brought them to the attention of the President. But no one seems to have done that.

Political parties raise objections about governors only when they are in the opposition. When in power, they do not hesitate to use the same office for political benefit.

The Sarkaria commission has made detailed recommendations on the eligibility and appointment procedures for governors. Why didn’t Arun Jaitley, who lectures now on the office of the governor, implement these recommendations when he was the Union law minister?

In independent India, disputes concerning the office of governor, painting them as  them as villains, have emerged largely in three situations. First, while deciding on who has the majority after an election. Second, while a political party seeks to prove its majority during a ‘no-confidence’ motion. Third, when a government isn’t allegedly functioning as per the Constitution.

All these three contexts have given birth to several political crises, which have found their way to the courts. The main reason for this is the lack clarity in the Constitution itself with respect to the role of the governor during the above mentioned situations.

Article 164 of the Constitution states that the (chief) ‘minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the governor’. According to Article 356, the governor may dismiss a government whose functioning is unconstitutional. In shot, the governor will have to take these decisions using his discretion.

Generally whenever discretionary power is used, individual interests are the determining factors and since the political party at the Centre will take a decision ultimately, these decisions lead to political disputes. However, whenever it has appeared as if the governor’s decisions have violated the constitutional framework, then the Supreme Court has intervened and provided relief.

However, the present political crisis in Karnataka hasn’t come about because of any the three political situations outlined above.

Using the right to information (RTI) Act, two lawyers have collected evidence on the corruption charges against the chief minister. They have presented that evidence to the governor and sought permission to prosecute him as per the the provisions of the prevention of corruption Act, 1988.

In cases such as this, if the governor can verify the truthfulness of the evidence, within the limits of the powers of his office, and if he is convinced that there is some truth to the charges, then he may allow for the prosecution of the chief minister. This power is given to the governor by the Constitution and Bharadwaj has used it.

Therefore, the governor cannot be charged with either the misuse of his powers or of breaking the law.

Yes, the governor could have rejected the plea of the two lawyers. But the Constitution does not require the governor to reject such an appeal nor does it say that the governor does not have the power to approve the appeal to prosecute. Therefore, it is clear that the governor has functioned within the framework of the Constitution.

If he has violated the law, then there is the Supreme Court to question his conduct. Why do we need all these allegations, abuse, protests and the bandh?

There are other reasons for the governor to justify his decision. This isn’t the first time there are allegations against the chief minister. The Lok Ayukta and the Padmaraj commission, which has been appointed by the government itself, have already been inquiring into several of these allegations.

Even the State Cabinet resolution, which demanded that the governor not permit the filing of a criminal case against the chief minister, cites these inquiries. If there was no truth in any of these allegations, why would the Lok Ayukta initiate an inquiry? Why would even the State government appoint a commission to inquire into these allegations?

Yediyurappa makes two allegations in order to justify himself: that the governor is behaving like an agent of the opposition parties, and that the opposition parties too have committed similar transgressions when they were in power.

In one sense, Yediyurappa is right. He truly hasn’t done what his predecessors haven’t done beforer. But how will the corruption of opponents justify one’s own corruption? Yediyurappa, who occupies a responsible office such as the chief ministership, should clarify which court will accept that argument. He doesn’t seem to realize this allegation could be used against him as well.

If the previous governments had been corrupt and had escaped being prosecuted, then wouldn’t the Opposition parties be responsible for that? What will Yediyurappa’s response be if he is asked about his own dereliction of duty as the leader of the opposition party in the legislative assemby?

BJP leaders also ask why a third inquiry when two institutions (Lok Ayukta and the Padmaraj Commission) are already seized of the matter. But isn’t this something that the BJP government itself started? Didn’t the BJP government think it was improper when it appointed the Padmaraj commission to investigate those cases which were being looked into by the Lok Ayukta without even bringing it to his notice?

Chief Minister Yediyurappa is truly in a bind now. The noose of three different inquiries has enveloped him. There aren’t too many choices to retain power. He may survive for a while through protests, bandhs and allegations against the governor. But he will not complete his term by resorting to these strategies.

The situation is getting out of hand.

Political games may have no rules but within the parliamentary democratic system, the game will be played within the framework of the Constitution and there, one will have to abide by the rules. If not then, one will have to leave the field.

Unfortunately Yediyurappa has himself created such as situation.

Yediyurappa may try to retain his office by claiming that he is innocent until proven guilty. Legally, a chief minister need not resign simply because of allegations or inquiries. However, how will BJP turn its back to the moral question since it has always been talking about a different kind of political idealism?

When confronted with similar accusations, the Congress party sent home many of its leaders, from Natwar Singh to Ashok Chavan. Now, how will the BJP face the Congress with this black mark?

The present-day BJP leaders have forgotten that their own leader L.K. Advani resigned as the leader of the opposition leader because letters resembling his name appeared in a Jainhawala case diary.

What a stunning moral collapse/ decline of the Bharatiya Janata Party!

Photographs: (top) BJP leaders led by L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu emerging out of Rashtrapati Bhavan after petitioning the President of India, Pratibha Patil, on the conduct of governor, H.R. Bharadwaj, in New Delhi on Monday (Karnataka Information department photo); author photograph, courtesy Praja Vani.

Also read: How the BJP completely lost the plot in Karnataka

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Why Karnataka politics has reached this sad state