Is reality slowly sinking in for the former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa? Well, at first glance, it seems so. With national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), particularly its supreme leader LK Advani, in no mood to restore him his lost position, Yeddyurappa told reporters on April 4: “I had thought I was an influential leader, but now I know what I am. I am just one of the 224 MLAs in the state.” The incumbent Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, who, incidentally, was Yeddyurappa’s own choice as an interim arrangement, has turned against him. So much so that he is now on a sacking spree, removing key officials and aides appointed by Yeddyurappa.
Has the BJP been fair to Yeddyurappa, the person who opened the gate for it to enter the southern part of the country? I have written earlier in this column that it has been nothing short of a suicide for the BJP the way its supreme leader literally forced the party to dump the BJP’s most effective face in Karnataka last year. Yeddyurappa was asked to go because of a highly biased report of the then Lokayukta, a self-proclaimed admirer of the BJP’s supreme leader. That report indicted Yeddyurappa as corrupt. I had written that this “indictment” would not stand scrutiny of law. And that precisely happened last month when the Karnataka High Court dismissed the report. And so strong have been the words of the High Court that state’s Advocate General S Vijayshankar has said: “The Lokayukta should not approach the Supreme Court to challenge the setting aside of the Lokayukta report on illegal mining and quashing of FIR against former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa in the High Court.”
Yeddyurappa was forced to step down as Chief Minister based on a July 27, 2011 report which alleged that he received a sum of Rs 10 crore from JSW Steels Ltd as “donation” for Prerana Trust, run by his sons BY Raghavendra and BY Vijayendra and his son-in-law Sohan Kumar. The report indicted Yeddyurappa on the grounds that his family members received a “sales consideration” of Rs 20 crore by selling land to Southwest Mining Company although the land value was barely Rs 2 crore.
However, delivering a 56-page judgment, the Karnataka High Court division Bench comprising Justice K Bhaktavatsala and Justice K Govindarajulu have quashed the FIR and the Governor’s sanction for criminal proceedings against Yeddyurappa. “We are of the considered view that the petitioner was condemned, unheard and there is flagrant violation of the principles of natural justice/maxim audi alterm partem/fairness in administrative action and statutory provisions,” the Bench observed. There is no material placed on record to establish that the petitioner showed any official favour to the companies. The SLP challenging the grant of lease is still pending before the Supreme Court. The mining lease was granted in favour of the companies by the state in September 2007 when the petitioner was neither a mining minister nor a chief minister,” the Bench said.
The court noted that according to Rule 22(4) of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960, approval of mining plan is vested with the Centre. “Therefore, the petitioner showing any official favour to the companies during 2007 to 2010 is beyond anyone’s comprehension,” the Bench said. In the context of a specific question to the Lokayukta counsel during the course of arguments, the Bench said,” He was mum. Suspicion cannot be a ground to tarnish the image and reputation of a person who is holding a constitutional post. Courts shall decide on the materials produced by the police or party; whereas the commission has to collect materials by inquisitorial method by investigation; if necessary, to inquire into truth or otherwise of the facts available.”
The court said the Lokayukta was entrusted with the probe into the illegalities and irregularities in mining in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga. Chapter 22 of the Lokayukta report was based on the Dr UV Singh findings, which had no connection with illegalities/irregularities in the mining case, the court observed, upholding the contention of Yeddyurappa’s counsel Ashok Harnahalli, who submitted that the ombudsman’s report was not within the scope of reference made to it by the state government.
It may be noted that the then Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, was asked by none other than Yeddyurappa himself to investigate the illegal mining activities in Karnataka in between 2000 and 2010. But, Justice Hegde emphasised the period between 2006 and 2010, calculating a loss of Rs. 16000 crore to the national exchequer. But what about the period in between 2000-2006? The present External Affairs Minister of India, SM Krishna as chief minister (October 1999 to May 2004) had granted 36 mining licenses. Those licenses were so improper that the Karnataka High Court had quashed all of them; yes “all” of them. Congress Chief Minister Dharam Singh (May 2004 to January 2006) recommended 43 licenses and 33 were granted by the central government (UPA). Later, HD Kumaraswamy (February 2006 and October 2007) recommended 47 and 22 were granted (by UPA). During President’s rule in the state (which means the state was controlled by the UPA government at the center from November 2007 to May 2008) 14 licenses were granted. Yeddyurappa (in between 2008 and 2010) had recommended 22, out of which just two, to repeat, just two, licenses were granted.
But then Justice Hedge indicted Yeddyurappa not for the licenses he granted but for a trust, being run by his sons, getting donations from a company, which had earlier bought a piece of land owned by them at more than the market prices. This company is a mining company but it did not get any permission from Yeddyurappa for mining activity! It seems that Justice Hegde had gone by a perception that since the chief minister’s sons got the donation from a mining company, the Chief Minister is guilty. This is a perverse logic. Because, there will be chaos if every father gets punishments for the misdeeds of his grown up children.
It is against this background that Yeddyurappa’s demand to the BJP leadership that he should be restored as Chief Minister needs to be seen. But then, the party high command, reportedly under strong pressure of the supreme leader, is not in a mood to do so; the ostensible reason being that there are other land-related cases pending against him. That again does not hold much water. Interestingly, the Karnataka High Court, on an earlier occasion, had said that all the land-related allegations against Yeddyurappa were not necessarily crimes —notifications and denotifications of lands were within his “discretionary power” as the Chief Minister, a power which every Chief Minister elsewhere has enjoyed. In fact, the rapid urbanisation in NOIDA and Gurgaon in the vicinity of Delhi has been made possible by the same discretionary power that various chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have exercised umpteen times. I do not suggest that this is justifiable or ethical; my point is that it is not criminal, as has been suggested by the supporters of BJP’s supreme leader. Only yesterday (April 4), the Supreme Court declared the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s decision of awarding a plot to the noted film maker Subhash Ghai null and void. But nobody is demanding that Deshmukh, now a senior cabinet colleague of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, be sacked and sent to Tihar jail.
A senior bureaucrat of Karnataka and one of my long-time friends (not at all a BJP sympathiser) tells me that notwithstanding the BJP’s tallest leader’s hatred against Yeddyurappa, the fact remains that he was a competent Chief Minister and that he was “least corrupt”, compared to his predecessors. He is the only leader who can fetch votes for the party (see how the BJP lost to Congress after ages in Chikmagalur without him). But the problem with him was that he, as my friend adds, did not master the art of “managing” his corruption (by “sharing the booty with the people who matter”, both inside and outside his party) and “nurturing” his image in the media.
Be that as it may, what can Yeddyurappa do now? Given the present trends prevalent in the BJP, his future does not seem all that bright. He can always threaten to split the party by forming a new regional party. He can then join hands with either the Congress or the Janata Dal(S). But all this does not impress the present national leadership of the BJP. Because, the senior leaders of the BJP are all happy and contented as opposition leaders. Individually, they all appear to be doing well, even though the party, as the latest round of Assembly polls showed, is literally sinking, and that includes Gujarat. They have no new ideas to mark themselves “different”, something that was their trade-mark in the 1990s. They do not generate hope and confidence among the country’s rising middle class, its natural constituency over the years, thanks to their anti-liberalisation and anti-business pronouncements. The international community does not take them seriously these days. They no longer have the killer-instinct for regaining power at the Centre and expanding the party in all parts of the country. All their energy is spent in fighting each other. Their “own” are their worst enemies. They just do not care whether the BJP’s “first” government in the South turns out to be “the last”. They do not realise that national parties such as the Congress and BJP have to be strong to arrest the rapid growth of centrifugal forces.
By Prakash Nanda