Last Friday, [26th July] Bharatiya Janata Party’s B S Yediyurappa was sworn in for the fourth time as the Chief Minister of Karnataka-fourth time lucky! This was after much drama, defections, alleged horse trading, resort tourism, jetting around, trust votes, disqualifications, litigation, wavering leadership, and finally swearing in. Well that is all part of what in reality is our politics today; a number game.
It is worth adding that since the formation of Karnataka in 1956 the state has seen 25 Chief Ministers and only three of them had actually completed their full term. They were S. Nijalingappa, D. Devaraj Urs and Siddharamaiah. Doesn’t it speak volumes about the political uncertainties in that state?
What a wonderful display of “true democracy” in action in the Garden City of India in the iconic Vidhan Saudha, probably one of the most beautiful legislative structures in the country! This column had carried on 16th May last year a piece entitled “Nataka of Karnataka” which tried to give an account of the ‘’Democratic Drama” enacted after no single party could win a simple majority in the state Assembly elections. One had written about the number of “Carotpatis” on the basis of their declared assets – 208 out of 220 of the Bharatiya Janata Party, 154 out of 199 from Indian National Congress, 13 of 25 candidates analyzed from JanataDal [Secular] etc showing that the average assets per candidate contesting the elections was Rs.7.54 crore. The Hindu, quoting an analysis of the affidavits filed by 2560 candidates before the Election Commission of India revealed that as many as 391 candidates were facing criminal cases against them- 83 of the BJP, 59 of the Congress and 41 of the JD[S]. Most of them were elected and were part of the Kumaraswamy government and now the brand new Yediyurappa government. The formation of the Congress-Janata Dal [Secular ] coalition government itself, one feels, was not exactly an example of political morality but one of political expediency. The present drama which has culminated in the installation of the BJP government in Karnataka seems natural, perfectly in tune with the moral temperature of our country!
The irony is that,those facing corruption and criminal charges being the main players in the sordid drama for the last one year swear by the edifying principles of democracy and high moral principles! The new BJP CM Yediyurappa and his party MLAs had a comfortable night on the floor of the Vidhan Saudha on Thursday [July 18], a day before the proposed Floor test. The incumbent Chief Minister Kumaraswamy and his coalition members acted hosts serving them dinner in the Vidhan Sabha. What magnanimity towards their political opponents! Athithi Devo Bhava! The rebel Congress and JD[S] MLAs meanwhile were enjoying five star hospitality in Mumbai or elsewhere in their earnest desire to save democracy in Karnataka! Who had paid for the hefty hotel bills and expensive frequent air journeys is anybody’s guess! After all, all of them seem to believe in ”Value based politics” and might have known the value to be paid for a lucrative political office!
The Hon. Supreme Court in its judgment granted the wishes of all warring factions and refused to interfere in the jurisdiction of the Hon. Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. Did the Legislative Assembly members know about the Constitution [52nd Amendment Act] enacted in 1985 to combat “the evil of political defections a matter of national concern .It is likely to undermine the very foundations of our democracy and the principles which sustain it” [quoted from the statement of Objects and Reasons for the Act.] The Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar finally disqualified all the rebel MLAs and the Yediyurappa government won the trust vote yesterday [Monday July 29]. Kumar then resigned as Speaker! The disqualified MLAs now have the onerous task of seeking judicial intervention and if they do not succeed may land in political wilderness. They of course have the satisfaction of saving democracy and upholding democratic values!
This is not the first time that our lawmakers have willingly violated the Anti- Defection laws and this may also not be the last. We have a record of such ‘save democracy’ programmes in different states!
One is not accusing or praising any political party for this problem of floor crossing or defections. There is a joke in the media circles that the BJP instead of achieving a “Congress Mukt Bharat [ an India free of Congress] has a Congress Yukt Bharat [this refers to some of the states like Goa where a number of former Congress men after switching over have been included in the BJP governments. Such people are of course not considered defectors. But in the last one year we have seen large number of Congressmen crossing over to the ruling party, sometimes en bloc mostly not for ideological reasons but for self aggrandizement. Earlier such migrations were from other parties to the Congress during the Grand Old Party’s heydays. Across the country and especially in the North Eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh we have seen wholesale defection to be part of the ruling party.
Parting ways with the GOP in the early 20th century was mostly on ideological reasons. They were not in quest of power or profit. In 1907 the Indian National Congress saw a split between the moderate elements led by Gopal Krishna Gokhale and a militant faction under Bal Gangadhar Tilak. There were later ideological rifts between those right of centre and those considered leftists like Nehru. Large number of Muslims also had left the GOP, fearing majority Hindus in the party. In 1934 Jai Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Acharya Narendra dev split from the Congress and started what was known as the Congress Socialist Party and it existed till 1948. In 1951 Acharya J B Krpalani and others split from the Congress and formed the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party which an year later merged with the Praja Socialist Party[PSP]. There was a split in the Praja Socialist Party and the Samukta Socialist Party was formed which returned to the PSP in 1972.
In 1959 disenchanted with the socialist moorings of Jawahar Lal Nehru and his dominance in the Indian National Congress C. Rajagopalachari, once a close associate of Nehru started the Swatantra Party with liberal economic ideas and free enterprise. The Party almost went into oblivion by 1972.
So the Indian National Congress has a heritage of splits and one feels, till the 1960s the splits were on ideological grounds whereas later splits were essentially on account of political power struggles. The biggest split in the Congress was witnessed in November 1969. There was a virtual split with the organizational wing of the Congress expelling Indira Gandhi from the party for violating party discipline. Most of the senior leaders like Morarji Desai, K Kamaraj and others became part of Indian National Congress [O] and the Indira faction was called Indian National Congress [R]. 446 of the 705 members of the All India Committee sided with Indira Gandhi and she became the most powerful leader. In the General Election of 1971 she won 352 seats in the Lok Sabha and Congress [O] 16.
After the Emergency most opposition parties inspired by Jai Prakash Narayan formed the Janata Party and trounced Indira Gandhi and formed the government with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister.
There were further splits and one of the major ones was the formation of Nationalist Congress Party by Sharad Pawar and others who questioned the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi. A number of other parties including the Communist Party split, different divisions in the Janata Dal or the divisions in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam etc are also worth mentioning.
As long as splits and defections are based on ideology and ethical principles, it could be acceptable. But of late what we see is blatant lust for power and parties being formed exclusively for castes and communities. There seems to be plenty of loopholes in the Constitution Amendment of 1985 and the Anti Defection Act. What is forgotten by power hungry politicians, like bats migrating from branches and trees to others, is the right of the citizens who voted for them on various considerations including political ideologies. Don’t those who switch parties to enjoy the fruits of power betray the trust deposed on them by people who elected them by changing their parties ? Public ire should be on such politicians and the voters should be empowered to call them back. There are some European countries where citizens actually exercise their right to recall deviant elected representatives. The happenings in Karnataka during the last one year is in fact a blot on our democracy and all the political parties have played their respective roles in that.