Karnataka will need a long time to live down the disgrace of the past fortnight which ended with the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party government overcoming the combined onslaught by a group of dissidents and the opposition.
The BJP, which previously shared power with former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal faction, had begun its solitary reign two years ago with a minority government headed by BS Yeddyurappa. It soon mobilised majority support in the State Assembly.
Ideology played no part in the transformation of the minority into majority. However, in a concession to democratic niceties, the BJP got the eight opposition members who switched sides to resign and seek re-election. Seven of them got re-elected.
Yeddyurappa ran into trouble when he reconstituted the council of ministers. Sixteen legislators — 11 BJP members and five Independents who were associate members of the BJP legislature party — revolted. To ward off pressure to return to the fold, they spent time in the neighbouring states.
As doubts arose about the support the government commanded in the Assembly, Governor HR Bhardwaj asked Yeddyurappa to seek a vote of confidence. The BJP petitioned Speaker KG Bopaiah to disqualify the rebels under the anti-defection law.
Bhardwaj, who was until recently an active Congress politician, asked the Speaker not to change the configuration of the house before the confidence vote. Bopaiah ignored the advice, disqualified all 16 rebels and posted policemen in uniform to prevent them from entering the house to vote. He declared the motion carried on a voice vote.
Refusing to accept the vote, the governor dashed off a report to the Centre recommending dismissal of the Yeddyurappa government and imposition of president’s rule. The disqualified legislators challenged the Speaker’s action in the high court.
As the Centre was unwilling to act on his recommendation, the Governor tried a new tack. He asked the chief minister to seek a fresh vote. Since the high court, while admitting the rebels’ petitions, declined their plea for an interim stay of the Speaker’s order, the BJP knew it could win even if there was a division in the house.
Yeddyurappa faced the Assembly again. The effective strength of the 224-member house had been reduced to 206 in the absence of the 16 disqualified members and two others, one belonging to the BJP and the other to the opposition Janata Dal. The house passed the confidence motion by 106 votes against 100.
Defection and horse-trading are not new phenomena but they manifested themselves in Karnataka this time on a scale unprecedented in the history of Indian democracy. Operators on both sides of the political divide reportedly offered huge sums to secure the support of legislators.
None of the participants in the political drama can look back on the events of the fortnight with any sense of pride. Yeddyurappa, never an inspiring figure, stands exposed as an ineffective chief minister. The failed coup has not enhanced the credibility of Janata Dal (S) leader HD Kumaraswamy, who played a key role in the attempt to topple the government.
The Speaker played a partisan role. The Independents whom he branded as defectors were not members of the ruling party. Their status as “associate members” does not have legal sanction.
The governor’s conduct leaves him too open to the charge of political partisanship. His constitutional authority does not give him the right to direct the Speaker or even advise him on how to exercise his power.
Each of these protagonists can claim with some justification that his motive was good and that of the others was not. However, good intentions and bad methods do not go well together. Good democracy is made up of good practices.
Yeddyurappa cannot breathe easy yet. The high court has stated that the outcome of the confidence vote is subject to its verdict in the petitions filed by the disqualified legislators. If the court quashes the Speaker’s disqualification order, the validity of the confident vote will be called into question.
The chief minister probably faces a greater challenge from inside his party than from outside. There is pressure on him to rein in his cabinet colleagues, Janardhana Reddy and Karunakara Reddy, of Bellary, alleged kingpins of the flourishing illegal mining business.
The Bellary brothers, as they are known, are too powerful to be trifled with. They are not willing to fade away. In fact, they want one of them to made deputy chief minister. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 18, 2010.