*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
The ‘natak’ in Karnataka, since the results of the recently-held elections to the State Assembly were announced on 15 May, was a drama which played out for almost a week and in the end the script going awfully wrong for the BJP.
Inspite of all their ‘powerful machinations’ complete with money, muscle and manipulations, they did not succeed this time in yet another murderous attempt on democracy. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”- is an oft-quoted line from William Shakespeare’s immortal play ‘Hamlet’. How true this is for several parts of India today when the political situation is not merely rotten but the stench and fumes, which emanate from this rot, can choke to death the strongest of persons. Karnataka this past week was just one chapter of this sordid drama. The country however, tonight breathes a sigh of relief because truth ultimately triumphed!
That the murder of democracy in India is taking place albeit slowly and systematically in the recent past, was never in doubt! The events of this past week however, have made it blatantly clear that the fascist forces in the country will stop at nothing to achieve their lust for power and to destroy the cherished values of democracy, which embody the spirit, and idea of India.
The nation and in fact the world is appalled at what is happening in India today and particularly with abysmal depths where corruption is concerned. The elections to the Karnataka State Assembly were always expected to be a watershed moment in the history of the country. The outgoing Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah of the Congress Party had done a creditable job at the helm; besides he was the first CM of Karnataka in forty years, to complete his term in the top position. By all standards, he and his party were expected to romp home, despite the fact that Karnataka over the years has made anti-incumbency its flagstaff and has been consistent in voting out the ruling party. Siddaramaiah however in the final run had to contend with the 3Ms of the BJP: Money, Muscle and Manipulations- all three personified in the three who led the onslaught Modi, Amit Shah and their CM candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa.
In the end, as some had forecast it was a hung assembly. The BJP won 104 of the 222 Seats; the Congress 78 and the Janata Dal (Secular) 37; two other seats went to two other parties and one to an independent. The Congress and the JDS in record time staked their claim to form the Government saying that they have 117 members on board. The BJP also staked their claim despite not having the required numbers. Significantly, the Congress polled more than 38% of the vote share and together with the JDS (18.3%) totaled more than 56% of the vote share, which was way ahead of the 36% polled by the BJP.
In keeping with the recently ‘established convention’ by the BJP Governors in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, the most obvious thing for the Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala to have done was to invite the JDS- Congress combine to prove their strength on the floor of the House. One needs to look at pure facts: in March 2017, in the Goa Assembly elections with a house strength of 40, the Congress one 17 and the BJP won 12; the Governor invited the BJP in a post poll coalition (BJP+MGP+GFP) to form the Government. The same month (March 2017) for the Manipur elections (with an Assembly strength of 60) the Congress won 28 and the BJP won 21; yet the Governor invited the BJP to form the Government in a post poll coalition (an independent MLA was also detained at Imphal Airport through security agencies & handed over to BJP). In Meghalaya in March this year (Assembly strength 60), the BJP won just two seats in comparison to the Congress’ 21 seats yet the partisan Governor invites them in a post poll coalition (NPEP+UDP+PDF+HSDPDP) to form the Government. The same was true in the Bihar Assembly elections too.
Whereas in Karnataka today despite a post poll coalition of the Congress and JDS with numbers surpassing the half way mark, the Governor threw all Constitutional propriety to the wind, proved to be extremely partisan and in very surreptiously at nine pm on the 16 May invited Yeddyurappa to be sworn in the next morning at nine. In a highly unethical manner, he also gave Yeddyurappa fifteen days’ time to prove his majority on the floor of the house. Vala’s contention was that the BJP was the single largest party; strangely, he did not think it appropriate to go by the precedence of his fellow Governors who followed a completely different set of rules in other states very recently. Vala is cast in the RSS mold, was the founder of the Jan Sangh in Gujarat and so in no way could he displease Modi and top brass of the BJP.
Providing fifteen days to prove one’s ‘majority’ (when there is none) was obviously a blatant invitation to ‘horse-trading’; given the fact that it has within its ranks some of the most corrupt men of the country and many with criminal backgrounds, it was obvious that the BJP would do everything (by hook or by crook) to buy up MLAs who are not in their fold. They began working on this ‘strategy’ from day one as is evidenced by the audio tapes produced by the Congress at a media conference yesterday.
The Congress and the JDS combine also acted swiftly to thwart the nefarious designs of the BJP. As soon as the Governor gave Yeddyurappa the invitation letter to be sworn in as CM, the Congress-JDS through a battery of eminent lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to stay the swearing-in. A three –member bench in a special post-midnight session heard both sides of the arguments. Whilst they did not stay the swearing in, the judges did make several adverse comments on the controversial role of the Governor (strangely, the honorable judges did not think it necessary to cite the precedence of the Goa Assembly elections of 2017, in which the Supreme Court in response to a petition had permitted the BJP who had lesser members than the Congress, to form a coalition after elections and then seek their strength in the house).
On Friday 18 May, the Supreme Court ordered that a floor test be conducted on Saturday 19 May at 4.00 pm in the Karnataka Assembly for Yeddyurappa to prove his majority, clearly stating that he could not take any major decision before this floor test. Apparently, Yeddyurappa has already begun transferring some police officials in total violation of the orders of the highest court of the land. Besides the BJP was desperate to be nominate an Anglo-Indian MLA to the Assembly-, which was flatly denied by the Court.
The Governor had also appointed KG Bopaiah a hard-core RSS member as protem Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly! Bopaiah’s track record has not been one of fair play or objectivity. In 2011, the Supreme Court had pulled him up for his partisan role in the illegal disqualification of some rebel BJP and independent MLAs. The Congress also challenged this appointment in the Supreme Court but their appeal was turned down.
In a major intervention the Supreme Court also ordered that, the ‘floor test’ had to be livestreamed so that the entire nation had the possibility of watching live the proceedings in the Assembly. Until Saturday 19 May morning it was anyone’s guess as to how many of MLAs from the Congress/JDS would have been ‘bought up’ by the BJP. A couple of Congress MLAs were ‘absconding until the very last – but they turned up in the Assembly well before the vote.
Ultimately, the BJP did not succeed in their game plan, in attempting to foist a falsehood on the nation saying that they had the required numbers and with total help from a partisan Governor. Yeddyurappa, after all his earlier bravado comes to the House, refuses to take a floor test and knowing that the proceedings are being livestreamed gave a twenty minute ‘address to the nation’, described by some as emotional. Like his mentor Modi, he also shed some crocodile tears not realizing that the people of India were not going to accept his hypocritical words after flagrantly attempting to destroy all that is sacred in the Constitution and the values, which embody democracy. Next Wednesday 23 May the JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy will be sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, with the support of the Congress. It was a day indeed of high drama
For the Congress. JDS and all other secular parties in the country, there are any amount of lessons to be learnt from this Karnataka drama; the first is that they have to remain united, come what way- including ‘seat-sharing’ and working in tandem despite differences; secondly they should stop playing ‘ soft Hindutva’ – they need to keep all of that only for the BJP/RSS combine; they should disassociate from all who are corrupt, communal, criminal and casteist( the BJP has proved time and again that these are their core competencies and integral to their ideology) and finally, they have to ensure that the Constitution of the country and democratic principles are not subverted. They all need to get their act together immediately if they want to dislodge the BJP from power in the General Elections of 2019.
The drama in Karnataka was no soap opera; it was for real! The muscle, money and manipulations of the BJP have come to naught this time. Nevertheless, everyone is aware (given what was unfolding this week), that they will stop at nothing to attain their ‘desired goals’. This time truth and justice have triumphed. In a span of four years, they have destroyed so much of the idea and spirit of India. The ‘we, the people’ , must exercise their responsibility and realise that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”; wholeheartedly engaging in the crucial struggles of our times and taking a stand for the rights of all , is the only way forward. We need to substantiate our actions in the prayer of our Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore,
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist)
Note: Views expressed in the article are of the writer.