Friday, November 02, 2007

Emerging undemocratic options (this was published in ET, op-ed, November 3, 2007)


The political drama now unfolding in Bangalore and some scenes enacted in New Delhi clearly belongs to the theatre of the absurd. And if anyone were to be asked to judge the best actor in this drama, he will have a serious problems deciding between H D Deve Gowda, B S Yediyurappa and Rameswar Thakur. But then, it will be appropriate to leave this to weekly newsmagazines for their year-end issues. One is familiar with publications bringing out special issues listing out the bad guys in our national life in the past few years.

There are, however, some serious concerns that have arisen from the events in Karnataka in the past few weeks. And these concerns fall under the moral and the constitutional frames. Let us recall, in brief, the context to the present drama.

The May 2004 elections resulted in a hung assembly with the BJP securing 79 seats, the Congress winning 65 seats and the Janata Dal(S) emerging victorious in 58 constituencies. Thereafter, the Congress and the Janata Dal(S) formed a post-poll coalition declaring secularism to be their creed to form the state government. This brand of secularism had helped Deve Gowda become the prime minister in May 1996. And secularism was once again useful for Gowda in Karnataka.

He seemed to have thought that Siddaramaiah, whom he appointed as deputy chief minister in Karnataka will remain his subordinate for ever. This was not happening. Sidaramaiah began asserting himself. And Gowda then propped up his son H D Kumarasamy to chart another course. And the son did that by leading his party MLAs out of the Congress-JD(S) coalition and setting up another coalition with the BJP.

Father Gowda first acted innocent. He even claimed that the son had betrayed him. But those who knew Gowda refused to buy all that and they were proved right in due course. Gowda is on top of the band of political leaders of our times who do not make a virtue of ideology and consistency. He owes his rise in public life — from being a civil contractor attached to the Congress to becoming the prime minister — to the series of brazen and opportunist moves and the infirmities in the democratic edifice.

Gowda could do all this only because others in the political arena were willing to play ball with him. The Congress, for instance, obliged him in Karnataka (in May 2004) because that was the only way it could wield power in the state. And the BJP did that in January 2005 only because it helped its own men wield power.

The BJP did not have any issue with the fact that the `S’ in the Janata Dal(S) stood for `secular’ and it was added to the party’s name only in order to differentiate itself from another Janata Dal faction (called the Janata Dal — United) then a part of the NDA. All that mattered to L K Advani and his followers was that it would make Yediyurappa the deputy chief minister, some other leaders as ministers. And through them, the party could appoint some of its loyalists as chairmen of various boards and corporations and thus ensure that the party’s resources are shored up before the next election.

There was this unity of purpose between the Congress and the Janata Dal(S) between May 2004 and December 2005; and thereafter between the Janata Dal(S) and the BJP until last month. This sense of purpose persists even now and that is the force behind the acts by all these parties. For the Congress, this objective will be served best with central rule than any fresh arrangement with the Janata Dal(S).

A rapproachement between the Congress and the JD(S) was on the cards and the fact is that it was shot down by the Congress. The party leaders seemed to have realised that governor Rameswar Thakur, whose bone marrows will smell of the Congress, is best suited to do this. And that seemed to have made Gowda rethink on the BJP and then all the drama that is still unfolding. All this points to two dimensions of the issue; the constitutional and the ethical. Insofar as the Constitution goes, governor Rameswar Thakur is clearly at fault and the inordinate delay on his part to invite Yediyurappa after the Janata Dal(S) legislature party informed him of their decision to support the BJP staked its claim.

Governor Thakur has no business mulling over Gowda’s letter that the assembly be dissolved because Gowda has no locus standi; and also because Kumarasamy had lost his majority in the assembly when he resigned as chief minister. The constitutional position is that the governor is bound by the advise of a chief minister only as long as he commands a majority and Kumarasamy submitted his resignation only after the BJP legislature party informed the governor of its decision to withdraw support.

Yediyurappa’s claim may be amoral and unethical considerations. But then, the governor’s job is to ensure the constitutional scheme of things. Ethics and moral concerns are outside the scope of things as such. It is another matter that the manner in which the events are unfolding in Bangalore is cause for concern.

One would have allowed these to rest by reposing faith on the electorate and arguing that the amoral lot in the political establishment will be punished by the people as and when assembly elections are held. But then, this too is a difficult proposition and an escapist position given the fact that the choice before the people, as and when elections are held, will be restricted to choosing one of the three amoral and unethical political formations. That they will be forced to chose between the Janata Dal(S), the Congress and the BJP in Karnataka is bound to make those who insist on parliamentary democracy being the best option worried.

This harsh reality is recipe to undemocratic options emerging as a way out and that will be disastrous.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu said...

Sir, parties may have amoral motives by their very nature of being parties. But given the current conditions, morality is related to holding on to power. So if a party gets a majority in assembly elections it automatically ceases to be 'amoral' then.

10:34 AM  

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