The mess in Karnataka

The mess in Karnataka

Volatile party politics and an “activist" governor make a combustible mixture even at the best of times in India. In Karnataka, the events of the past fortnight, some would say past year, are not far from such a description. Monday’s events, when the beleaguered B.S. Yeddyurappa government “secured" a vote of confidence amid allegations of the vote being manipulated and counter-allegations of governor H.R. Bhardwaj interfering in the assembly proceedings, show the unruly and unsavoury side of Indian politics.

Both parties, the Yeddyurappa government and the governor, are to be blamed for the mess. But whereas nothing better could be expected from the state government, it was incumbent on the governor to set a higher standard of behaviour, something he failed to demonstrate. His letter to the speaker on the eve of the confidence vote to ensure that no changes were made to the “character or configuration" of the assembly was uncalled for. It only brings back bad memories of governors interfering in state politics to destabilize legitimately elected governments. The demand for his recall, even if it appears to be motivated by partisan ends, is right. At the same time, if the speaker has acted in a partisan manner, as many have alleged that he did on Monday, he may well have to face a judicial challenge for the decisions he took.

Clearly, the speaker has made a serious mistake, if not a breach of propriety. It is well known that 16 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) had broken away along with five independent MLAs. The Karnataka assembly has a strength of 224. Out of this number, the BJP had 117 members. After 16 MLAs rebelled, the party was clearly short of a majority.

Under these circumstances, the proper course for ascertaining the strength of the government would have been to press for a division vote. The speaker did not do so. Given the circumstances, this was a grave mistake and raises doubts about the speaker’s impartiality.

It is often said that courts interfere in domains where they have no business. The happenings in the Karnataka assembly on Monday show this assertion is off the mark. It is sad that judges have to decide on the legality of proceedings in an assembly when the procedure for its smooth functioning is laid out in detail.

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