Political plots

Published : Jun 17, 2011 00:00 IST

GOVERNOR H.R. BHARADWAJ (right) and Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa at the inauguration of the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Karnataka Public Service Commission in Bangalore on May 18. - PTI

GOVERNOR H.R. BHARADWAJ (right) and Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa at the inauguration of the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Karnataka Public Service Commission in Bangalore on May 18. - PTI

The Centre rejects Governor H.R. Bhardwaj's recommendation for President's Rule, but not before giving Yeddyurappa anxious moments.

While Karnataka Governor H.R. Bhardwaj can probably be excused for thinking that someone up there' likes Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who seems to claw his way out of the deepest of political black holes, what he cannot be forgiven for are his unabashedly partisan motives and often fatuous moves aimed at ejecting, by means more foul than fair, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) first ever government in the South.

Over the past two years, Bhardwaj's attempts, many of which have resembled Don Quixote tilting at windmills, have not only allowed Yeddyurappa to garner sympathy and strength but, worse, paralysed for days on end the State's administration and helped put on the back burner remedial action on the real issues clogging Karnataka's progress as a front-line State (its economy is projected to grow at over 8 per cent in 2010-11). Among the issues are rampant corruption, patchy governance, continuing illegal mining, nepotism, scandals which have seen four Ministers make unceremonious exits, and discrimination against and oppression of minorities.

The beleaguered Yeddyurappa has seen more downs than ups in his three years as Chief Minister, with most of the threats initiated, curiously, by his own partymen. The just-concluded political tamasha' was no different.

Yeddyurappa was shaken by a letter from Governor Bhardwaj to the Centre on May 15 recommending the proclamation of President's Rule in the State under Article 356 (1) of the Constitution. On the night of May 22 the Chief Minister got yet another reprieve when the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs rejected the Governor's recommendations.

But the Centre's week-long delay in making its intentions clear, and the statements and counterstatements in the interim, once again highlighted what these frequent spats between the Yeddyurappa government and the Governor have come to signify a political logjam and a halt to governance, something Karnataka Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Jagdish Shettar squarely blamed Bhardwaj for.

He said: The mala fide, politically motivated and unconstitutional moves of the Governor have resulted in political impasse and uncertainty in the State, causing me and many of my ministerial colleagues to indefinitely postpone or worse cancel our scheduled district review meetings, visits to constituencies, taluk panchayats, etc. What has the Governor achieved except harming the interests of the State? Bhardwaj should be recalled immediately by the Centre.

But such a move is unlikely for now. This is the second time in seven months that Bhardwaj's recommendation for President's Rule has hit a wall at the Centre. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram explained that the Governor's report made no case for President's Rule. However, both the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Congress have defended stoutly the Governor's actions and ruled out his recall.

According to ballpark estimates, the Yeddyurappa government, which prides itself on attracting investment to the tune of Rs.4.73 lakh crore during the Global Investors Meet in June 2010, has lost around 15 months of its three years in power firefighting on dissidence (initially by the Reddy brothers of Bellary and then by others), unprecedented floods in the northern parts of the State, byelections to the State Assembly, elections to the Lok Sabha and local bodies, scandals including charges of corruption and nepotism against the Chief Minister, and the Governor's nod to prosecute him.

A number of key infrastructure projects, including in areas such as irrigation and surface transport, await Cabinet clearance. Financially manufactured' allegiances (through Operation Lotus) and majorities, though deemed necessary, have also taken up the government's time.

Operation Lotus was a well-conceived, though mischievous, plan to woo legislators from other parties in order to give the BJP a clear majority in the 224-member Assembly, it having won 110 seats (simple majority: 113 seats) in the May 2008 election. It dented the strengths of both the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). Both parties saw a number of their legislators resigning their seats and winning on the BJP ticket in the ensuing byelection. The BJP has won 16 of the 17 byelections that have been held during the tenure of the present Assembly.

Bhardwaj's letter of May 15 came a day after he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Congress leaders in New Delhi and two days after the Supreme Court set aside Assembly Speaker K.G. Bopaiah's order of October 11, 2010, disqualifying 11 BJP and five independent members supporting the Yeddyurappa government.

Though the Speaker's orders had been upheld by the Karnataka High Court, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court overturned it, upholding the appeals filed by Balchandra L. Jarkiholi and 10 others. The judges said it appeared that Speaker Bopaiah's disqualification ruling, given on an application by Yeddyurappa, was a drastic and partisan step, taken in hot haste and great hurry.

On October 9, in their reply to the Speaker's show cause notice, the 11 BJP rebels and five independent legislators had re-emphasised their position that they not only continued to be BJP members/support the BJP, but would also support any government formed by the party headed by any leader other than Yeddyurappa. The Supreme Court judges added that merely expressing a lack of confidence in Yeddyurappa did not empower the Speaker to take action against them.

The Bench said in its May 13 judgment: Extraneous considerations are writ large on the face of the order of the Speaker and the same has to be set aside. The Speaker, in our view, proceeded in the matter as if he was required to meet the deadline set by the Governor [for Yeddyurappa to take a trust vote], irrespective of whether, in the process, he was ignoring the constitutional norms set out in the Tenth Schedule and the Disqualification Rules, 1986, and in contravention of the basic principles that go hand in hand with the concept of a fair hearing.

The judgment added that there was no compulsion on the Speaker to decide the disqualification application filed by Yeddyurappa in such a great hurry within the time specified by the Governor to conduct a vote of confidence. It said: It would appear that such a course of action was adopted by the Speaker since the vote of confidence was slated for before October 12, 2010. The element of hot haste is also evident in the action of the Speaker. The procedure adopted by the Speaker seems to indicate that he was trying to meet the time schedule set by the Governor for the trial of strength and to ensure that the appellants and other independent MLAs stood disqualified prior to the date on which the floor test was to be held. In a further indictment of the Speaker's action, the court said: The vote of confidence took place on October 11, in which the disqualified members could not participate and, in their absence Mr Yeddyurappa was able to prove his majority in the House. Unless it was to ensure that the trust vote did not go against the Chief Minister, there was no conceivable reason for the Speaker to have taken up the disqualification application in such a great hurry.

The Supreme Court judgment was all that Bhardwaj needed. Acting swiftly after parleys in New Delhi, he wrote to the Centre seeking the promulgation of President's Rule. His argument was that the Supreme Court judgment amply showed that Yeddyurappa had won the vote of confidence unconstitutionally and hence had no right to continue. According to the Governor, after the MLAs who were supporting Yeddyurappa had submitted letters to him withdrawing their support, he had advised the Chief Minister to prove his majority. But the Speaker, in collusion with the Chief Minister, had distorted the character and composition of the Assembly for extraneous reasons by disqualifying 16 members just hours before the crucial floor test.

The Governor's thinking, constitutional experts felt, was flawed since neither the Supreme Court nor the MLAs themselves had gone into the question of which way the legislators would have voted (the party had issued a whip) in the confidence vote that Yeddyurappa won.

The Governor's recommendation also did not factor in the reality of 10 of the 11 BJP legislators deciding to rejoin Yeddyurappa. Less than 48 hours after the Supreme Court had struck down their disqualification, they were standing at the Karnataka Raj Bhavan, waiting to hand over to the Governor letters of support to the Yeddyurappa government. They were back in the BJP fold, having struck win-win deals with the party, which promised some of them ministerial berths and others posts as heads of statutory bodies. But Bhardwaj refused to meet them (citing that it was a Sunday) and instead dashed of his missive to the Centre. Buoyed by the return of the 10 legislators, Yeddyurappa was also keen on a confidence vote on the floor of the House. The Yeddyurappa Cabinet called on the Governor to convene a session of the legislature from May 16. But the Governor refused. An angry BJP dubbed Bhardwaj an agent of the Congress who wanted to rule the State through the backdoor.

On May 17, a worried BJP paraded 114 (some were absent with prior permission) of their MLAs before President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Leading the troupe were BJP president Nitin Gadkari and senior leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, with MPs and MLCs in tow.

They called for the immediate recall of Bhardwaj, who they claimed was functioning against the spirit of the Constitution. They added that the dignity and prestige of the office of Governor in Karnataka had suffered a great deal because of him. Besieging the President not to take any action on the recommendation of the Governor, Gadkari and other leaders claimed that the BJP government had the support of 122 MLAs, including Yeddyurappa and the Speaker.


Karnataka is no stranger to political machinations, dissidence, horse trading and political pantomime, with a plethora of political players and parties employing Machiavellian ways to drive their own agendas. The just-concluded crisis is no exception, with a number of plots and subplots. While the Governor's action did spark off the crisis, the Congress and the Janata Dal (S), whose leader H.D. Kumaraswamy had played a major role by wooing and spiriting away the BJP dissidents during the October rebellion, were more than ready to muddy the waters.

The UPA and the Congress high command had a number of reasons to negate the Governor's recommendations, despite the bigwigs of the Karnataka party unit making a beeline to New Delhi to convince them to impose President's Rule. Informed sources said the reasons varied from not wanting to give Yeddyurappa a halo of martyrdom by dislodging a legitimately elected government to not being sure of mustering the requisite numbers during the vote in the Rajya Sabha on the decision. Neither was the Congress top brass convinced by party leaders from Karnataka on a suitable course of action should the BJP government fall. Also, the UPA-II needs the BJP's support to run its government at the Centre, support that will not be forthcoming if the BJP's only dispensation in the South is brought down.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who along with his sons has continually led the opposition's charge against Yeddyurappa, was in New Delhi, closeted with a number of his friends' from both the Congress (including Manmohan Singh) and the Left.

Speaking to Frontline, an angry Deve Gowda said he had managed to convince his friends especially in the Left that this BJP government had to go. The Left leaders are in principle opposed to the imposition of Article 356 but in this case they had agreed to support the move. But the Centre failed us. They are not interested in removing the corrupt and illegal Yeddyurappa government. The UPA, which completed two years in office on May 22 (and has a wafer-thin majority in the Lok Sabha), wants to complete its remaining three years. For this and the smooth running of Parliament it has to have a friendly relationship with the BJP. How can you expect the UPA or the Congress to take action against the BJP? Today the Congress and the BJP are like A team' and B team' [of the same organisation], he said.

Sources in the Congress pointed out that the Deve Gowda family had been having a running feud with Yeddyurappa and he and some of his confidants would like to see the back of the BJP government. However, the Congress would not like to do anything that would strengthen the Vokkaliga strongman and allow him and his sons to once again dictate political terms with a small band of JD(S) legislators. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who is also a Vokkaliga, does not want to see a strong Deve Gowda rallying the Vokkaliga electorate.

The Congress in the State has not been in government on its own since Krishna lost the election in 2004 (N. Dharam Singh ran a lame duck coalition government along with the JD(S) between May 2004 and February 2006) and is itching to get its hands on the levers of power. Disappointed Congress leaders said what they had impressed upon the Centre was to impose a spell of President's Rule and place the State Assembly in suspended animation during which period inquiry commissions could be set up and Yeddyurappa's misdeeds exposed.

Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president G. Parameshwar told Frontline that while the decision not to impose President's Rule was a setback, the party would review and continue its fight against the corrupt Yeddyurappa government.

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