Bhardwaj’s Dangerous Logic
As I write this, the impasse in Karnataka following the recommendation of the Karnataka Governor Hansraj Bhardwaj to impose the President’s rule in the state continues. While Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has displayed his unmistakable legislative strength before President Pratibha Patil, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) delegation has impressed upon the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reject the Governor’s recommendation and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has demanded the recall of the “troublemaker” Bhardwaj. Predictably, the Congress has supported the Governor’s action. Nobody knows what decision the President will take after receiving the “advice” of the central council of ministers.
It all started on May 13, when the Supreme Court set aside the disqualification of the 16 rebel MLAs (11 belonging to the BJP and five independents, who were backing the Yeddyurappa government) by the Speaker last October. The rebels had written a letter to the Governor mentioning the withdrawal of their support, following which the latter had asked the Chief Minister to prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly. The Supreme Court said that the Speaker took the decision in a hurry and did not give enough time to the rebels to clarify their position and that all this was done to help the Chief Minister.
Bhardwaj rests his argument that his latest decision is not based on the criteria whether Yeddyurappa has majority with him or not. For him, there was a constitutional breakdown in the state because of the nexus between the Speaker and the Chief Minister, as established by the Supreme Court verdict and because of which the Yeddyurappa government survived in October. In that sense, the government has been illegal and Yeddyurappa, along with the Speaker has to go, so runs his argument.
However, this is a dangerous and unprecedented argument. For, there will be utter chaos in the country if any constitutional authority—and the Speaker is one such authority—who takes a decision to the best of his mind and capacity, which, ultimately, does not stand judicial scrutiny, is punished and deprived of his position. For instance, in the present case, the Speaker’s decision was held valid by the Karnataka High Court. Going by Bhardwaj’s logic, will the Chief Justice of the High Court—who along with a brother judge, supported the Speaker’s decision—resign, now that the Supreme Court has overturned their judgement?
Take two other examples. The Supreme Court recently declared the appointment of Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) PJ Thomas illegal. Going by the logic of Bhardwaj, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister PC Chidambaram have to leave, since it is they who insisted on Thomas for the CVC post by ignoring the dissent of opposition leader Sushma Swaraj! In 2005, the then Governor of Bihar Buta Singh imposed the President’s Rule, by ignoring the claims of the NDA to form the government. Subsequently, the Supreme Court declared his decision illegal. Was Buta Singh punished? Not necessarily. He was given another constitutional post as Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes by the Manmohan Singh government, whose Law Minister then was none other than Bhardwaj himself!
Let us view another scenario. Suppose the Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly and Yeddyurappa ask for a review of the judgement delivered by Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph by a bigger bench of the Supreme Court, and in its wisdom this bench nullifies the present judgement. Will the two learned Justices be asked to quit for their “faulty” decision? Well, that is what Bhardwaj’s logic implies. All told, the latest verdict—as BJP leader Arun Jaitely says—is not infallible. The verdict weakens considerably the anti-defection laws. For if a hyperactive Governor like Bhardwaj wants to destabilise the government of a state he will simply not give enough time to its duly-elected Chief Minister to prove his majority but refrain the Speaker from taking a timely decision on the defectors. In my opinion, this is a gross violation of natural justice.
“I HAVE EFFECTIVELY PASSED SO MANY AGNIPARIKSHA”—BS Yeddyurappa, Chief Minister, Karnataka
Are you sure you will survive the present crisis?
There is no crisis at all. I have a majority, and a stable and popular government. During the three years of my tenure as the Chief Minister, I have effectively passed so many agnipariksha. Each of these difficult situations has given me more strength. As far as the present situation is concerned, wherein the Governor has submitted a special report to the Centre, recommending for invocation of Article 356(1) in Karnataka, I am 100 per cent sure that the democratic norms will be upheld and my government will be allowed to function. In a way, the present crisis, if that can be called so, has enabled us to work with more strength.
Are all the BJP MLAs and most importantly the BJP leaders—both in the state and at the centre, many of whom are perceived to be your sworn enemies, and who are understood widely to have created the crisis last year in connivance with the Congress and JD(S)—with you?
Firstly let me clarify, I do not have any sworn enemies—more so within the BJP. We are all united. What had happened was a matter of difference of opinion. All the differences have now been sorted out and we are all working like a family. We firmly believe in our party principle of “Nation first, party next and self last.” All the MLAs and our central party leaders are completely with me.
What do you think is the reason for the change of heart of the rebels in your favour?
They were, in fact, misled by the sinister plans of JD (S) and Congress leaders. Now the reality has dawned upon them. Now their faith in the party and my leadership is unconditional and unequivocal. They have given a letter to this effect. They are fully committed to work in accordance to the ideology of BJP and under my leadership.
If dismissed by the centre, would you make way for a leadership change in Karnataka for another Chief Minister from your party or would you prefer fresh polls?
There is no question whatsoever of centre even thinking of dismissing my government. The Prime Minister, the President and all central leaders have assured us that no unconstitutional steps will be taken. The people of Karnataka have expressed their continuous faith in my leadership by electing our party candidates in all the elections following May 2008 Assembly elections. Hence, there is no question of change in leadership at all. As far as polls are concerned, I am thinking of Assembly elections in Karnataka after two years, in which I am sure BJP candidates would win in more than 150 Assembly constituencies.
Why is it that the Governor is never happy with you?
It is for the Governor to answer. I have always held the institution of Governor in high esteem.
If you survive the present crisis, how are you going to work with Mr Bhardwaj? Would you insist on the Prime Minister to recall him?
I have already survived the present crisis. As far as the partisan attitude of the Governor is concerned, I have already submitted a memorandum to the President of India on May 17, 2011, explaining all the relevant facts and requesting to recall the Governor from our state at the earliest. I feel that the time has come for Mr HR Bhardwaj to go back.
Your critics say that you are authoritarian in your working style and that is the main reason for all your troubles. Given this perception, are you going to mend your ways?
I am in active politics for over four decades. I have never been autocratic or authoritarian. I firmly believe in inclusive development. I am open to constructive feedback. Anyway, I also take care to see that such perception, if any, of people about me being unduly dominant, changes.
It is also said that the bureaucracy in the state never supports you and this is the reason JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy gets all the government documents. How are you going to deal with this situation?
There is no basis for such an opinion. The government machinery including bureaucracy is all with me and my government. It is with the active cooperation and commitment of the bureaucracy that our government is able to implement the innovative programmes and policies during the last three years. They are meaningfully participating in the process of good governance.
It is nobody’s case that Bhardwaj has distinguished himself in his role as the Governor so far. He has given an unmistakable impression that he is there to ensure the ouster of the BJP government. He has virtually converted the Raj Bhavan into the Opposition headquarters by conducting frequent meetings with the Congress and Janata Dal (S) leaders, if press reports are to be believed. Whenever he received a memorandum from the Opposition Congress leaders, Bhardwaj used to directly write to the ministers concerned to give an explanation. He had summoned the then Tourism Minister Janardhan Reddy (who refused to go) and former Higher Education Minister Ramachandra Gowda. Ideally, the Governor should have forwarded the letter to the Chief Minister seeking his opinion. It is like the BJP in Delhi, petitioning the President over scams involving the then Communication Minister Raja and the then Urban Housing Minister Japan Reddy and Sports Minister MS Gill (in connection with the Commonwealth Games) and the President summoning them directly by ignoring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Similarly, Bhardwaj made comments on the powerful Bellary brothers, who are ministers in the Yeddyurappa government. He went to the extent of demanding their sacking for their alleged involvement in illegal mining—something which has not yet been proven in the court of law.
Bhardwaj has done something more unimaginable. He had recently withheld an honorary degree—before he was compelled to reconsider the decision—to be conferred by the University of Bangalore on noted Kannada writer M Chidananda Murthy. Bhardwaj justified his decision on the ground that the author had supported a report that dealt with the 2008 attacks on churches in the state. Apparently, to the Governor’s dismay, the report by the legally constituted Justice B Somsekhara Commission has not indicted the BJP-led state government for the attacks. Bhardwaj claimed to be “disturbed” by the report, even though the Governor by his own admission had not even read the report but only glanced through a synopsis. His conclusion was that the “entire Christian community was upset with the findings”. Even assuming that Mr Murthy had supported the Justice Somsekhara panel report, how does that give Bhardwaj the right to withhold an award? The honorary degree being conferred on the renowned author and historian is in recognition of his contribution to the field of Literature and History. It is not an endorsement of his political views.
If anything, through this episode, Bhardwaj sent out the despicable message that honorary degrees were political tools. And when one talks of political tools, for Bhardwaj things have to be the Congress-way, since quintessentially he has always been a loyalist to the Gandhi family. In fact, it will not be wrong to say that he does not care about the Congress party as such, for him serving the cause of the Gandhi family is everything, causing huge embarrassment to even Sonia Gandhi, many a time. He openly claims that his greatest asset is his loyalty to the Gandhi family. And in doing that he has never cared about laws—evident from the manner in which he took initiative to de-freeze two bank accounts of Ottavio Quattrocchi, who was accused in the Bofors scam case. Bhardwaj, then Union Law Minister, acted without consulting the investigating agency (CBI) which had gotten the accounts frozen. Bhardwaj has been known to have his own opinions on legal issues. It is he who commented in 2004 that Sonia Gandhi could have access to official files, in her capacity as the Chairperson of the Common Minimum Programme implementation committee of the ruling alliance at the Centre.
It is quite obvious that Bhardwaj has not been able to make a distinction between being a Congress man and being a Governor, who is supposed to play a constitutional and neutral role. He continues to behave as a Congress man with a definite goal of dismissing the BJP government, so that Sonia Gandhi will be happy enough to call him back to Delhi for a Cabinet berth in the Union Cabinet. In fact, he has confided to friendly journalists that he is yet to understand why was he dropped from Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet after the last general elections.
And that brings the final point whether active politicians should be appointed as Governors in the first place. The country has seen how partisan governors have dismissed duly-elected state governments, affecting thus the federal structure of the country, particularly after 1967 when the ruling Congress at the Centre did not master the craft of coexisting with the non-Congress parties ruling various states. That is why the much-talked about Justice Sarkaria Commission and later the “National Commission to review the working of the Constitution” (in 2001) had suggested some measures towards having a non-partisan Governor. Of those, the following suggestions are particularly noteworthy in the present context.
The person to be made the Governor should be appointed by a committee comprising of the Prime Minister of India, Union Minister for Home Affairs, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Minister of the state concerned; he should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, particularly in the recent past; his tenure of office must be guaranteed for five years and the provision that the Governor holds office “during the pleasure of the President” be deleted with the provision that there could be impeachment of the Governor by the State Legislature on the same lines as the impeachment of the President by the Parliament; after demitting his office, the person appointed as the Governor should not be eligible for any other appointment or office of profit under the Union or a State Government except for a second term as Governor or election as Vice-President or President of India, as the case may be; and at the end of his tenure, reasonable post-retirement benefits should be provided.
If the above changes are brought about, the office of the Governor would be invested with requisite dignity and integrity, and we will avoid the embarrassment of having the likes of Bhardwaj, who, instead of protecting and preserving the true spirit of the Constitution, play with it.
By Prakash Nanda