Sordid drama in Karnataka throws every rulebook to the wind, is terrible advertisement for Indian democracy

The drama being played out for almost over a week in Karnataka is a terrible advertisement for India’s democracy.

Naked wrangling for power and throwing to the wind every rulebook, constitutional provision or judicial decree saps the confidence of people in a political system that is already under duress in different parts of the world.

A coalition that was unstable from the very start has finally imploded under the weight of its contradictions. Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy from JD(S) — who has been creaking under pressure from the Congress and complaining throughout his 13-month tenure of being force-fed poison and that he was not happy being the chief minister — is for all purposes presiding over a minority government.

Rebel MLAs holed up inside five-star resorts, party MLAs whisked away in luxury buses to different states, lawmakers dashing from airport to airport, resort to resort, trying to tender resignations to the Karnataka Assembly Speaker, who in turn had allegedly escaped from the backdoor of his office to avoid meeting the dissident MLAs, the Supreme Court’s order being defied, legal wrangling over interim orders, a ruling coalition in disarray — all of this makes for a great Bollywood potboiler but sends all the wrong signals about the sanctity of the democratic process.

 Sordid drama in Karnataka throws every rulebook to the wind, is terrible advertisement for Indian democracy

Karnataka Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar. Twitter @ANI

Unfortunately, there is no end to the drama in sight. The Supreme Court, in its latest ruling on Friday, has ordered status quo with regard to the resignation and disqualification of the 10 MLAs who had moved the apex court against the Speaker’s delaying tactics, and has set the issue to be heard at length on Tuesday. The top court’s ruling does nothing to solve the impasse that has held hostage to all forms of administrative functioning in a big state such as Karnataka, but it does come as a breather for Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar, a Congress appointee, and gives the ruling coalition a slight advantage.

It is a game of chess. The BJP is still waiting in the wings, demanding Kumaraswamy’s resignation. It may move in for the kill or abstain from taking decisive action depending on the court’s final judgment. Meanwhile, Kumaraswamy has thrown a curveball after the Supreme Court decision, seeking a trust vote in the Assembly.

“Today there are many things happening in our state’s politics because of the decisions of many MLAs, which has created a difficult situation. I am not here to sit in power, I appeal to you that in light of the developments I want to move a trust motion,” said Kumaraswamy, who is facing a crisis of numbers after 16 MLAs had put in their papers pending acceptance from the Speaker.

The situation in Karnataka is in a state of flux. The numbers game is changing every minute. As things stand right now, if the Speaker accepts the resignations of 10 dissident MLAs to have moved the apex court, then the halfway mark in the Karnataka Assembly falls to 108 in a 224-member House. The BJP has 105 and is expected to have the support of two Independents who have given up their ministerial berths and issued support to the BJP.

The coalition tried hard to avoid this eventuality with the Speaker spearheading the delaying tactics in manoeuvres that came dangerously close to contempt of court. In a ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court had asked the Speaker to take a decision “forthwith” about the resignation of 10 rebel MLAs and fixed a specific time, 6 pm, for the meeting between the Speaker and the MLAs.

Kumar, the Speaker, who had initially gone on leave the day MLAs had arrived at his office to put in their papers, has been using every trick in the book to avoid accepting their resignations. He had claimed that the resignations are not in the “proper format” and finally suggested on Thursday that he didn’t understand the meaning of the word “forthwith” in the Supreme Court order.

“[The] Court has asked me to come to a decision, I have written to them (Supreme Court) the word ‘forthwith’ they have said, I am unable to understand — what to decide, as Constitution says something else, so I have given them (MLAs) time (to appear before me),” the Speaker was quoted, as saying in a report.

The Speaker then moved the Supreme Court asking for a modification of the direction asking him to decide the issue of the resignation in the course of the day, but the Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had scheduled the issue to be heard on Friday, along with another petition by the rebel MLAs against the Speaker’s ploys.

The coalition gameplan, that the Speaker has been executing so far, is to stall a decision on resignations till the conclusion of the 10-day long Monsoon Session that began on Friday. The Congress and JD(S) have issued a whip to their party MLAs to attend the session, failing which they will be disqualified under the anti-defection law or the 10th Schedule of the Constitution and barred from contesting polls for at least six years. This is the best possible scenario for the coalition. The rebel MLAs say that disqualification is not applicable in this case because they have already tendered resignations.

According to the rebel MLAs, the Speaker is trying to “disqualify them” during the Assembly session, which they argue would be “completely illegal and without any cause of action in as much as they have tendered their resignation of their memberships”.

With the apex court setting Tuesday as the date for the hearing of the issue, expect this murky game to continue for now. This ignoble wrangling for power has victimised the voter who had cast her ballot secure in the belief that democracy is the best possible system for participatory governance. The new generation in a demographically young India should not be blamed if it turns cynical towards it.

Follow all the latest updates from the Karnataka political crisis here

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Updated Date: Jul 12, 2019 14:51:08 IST

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