POST-Independence history is a sad narrative of the Congress culture of destabilising democratically elected non-Congress governments. The party is as intolerant of non-Congress governments as it is to any challenge to, or even criticism of, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. It plays dirty games, exploits pliant governors and manipulates phony splits in other parties to defy popular mandates. Politically unemployable Congress men and women sent as Governors to states run by non-Congress governments are pawns in the hands of the dynasty that go by the name of high command. Way back in 50s, Indira Gandhi, who was then Congress president, persuaded her father, Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, to dismiss Communist Government of Kerala. The Russian stooges deserved to be defeated in a free and fair poll rather than thrown out of power by undemocratic machinations.
The Congress caused a split in the Akali party, not once but twice, to dislodge their governments that was cleverly exploited by extremist elements as a proof that the Centre was “anti-Sikh”. This sentiment was further strengthened by the Congress party’s horrendous tactics of promoting fire-eating Bhindrawale to split the Akali votes. He turned out to be a Frankesnstien. The Congress managed to return to power in Punjab but the country had to pay a heavy price in the emergence of a Pak-supported violent separatist movement that posed a grave threat to social harmony and territorial integrity of India. The Congress party refused to learn any lesson and its Governments went on merrily with using hand-picked governors to dislodge non-Congress Governments in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Goa. In 1992, it dismissed BJP Governments in Himachal, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in the wake of the demolition of the disputed structure though these governments had nothing to do with what happened in Ayodhya.
Latest in the series is H R Bhardwaj who was appointed Governor of Karnataka in utter disregard to his track record. As Union Law Minister in UPA I, Bhardwaj had flown to London to personally supervise the defreezing of bank accounts of Otttavio Quattrocchi, the notorious Italian businessman close to Sonia Gandhi, who was the conduit in receiving kickbacks in the Bofors deal. The Governor, known for his loyalty to the dynasty, was in a tearing hurry to dislodge the first BJP Government in the South by means fair and foul. He entertained, even encouraged, motivated allegations by opposition parties against certain state ministers and sought their explanations instead of referring the matter to the Chief Minister as per the established norms. Bhardwaj brazenly denounced the Yeddyurappa Government as corrupt and publicly instructed the Chief Minister to take action against certain Ministers. As if this was not enough, he indulged in countless constitutional improprieties to win the war against the elected Government run by a party that is perceived by the dynasty to be its “worst enemy”.
Sixteen defectors, including three Ministers, called on the Governor to submit in writing that they had lost confidence in the Chief Minister. Bhardwaj seized the opportunity by asking Chief Minister BS Yeddyurapa to prove his majority in the House without caring to ask the Ministers who had lost confidence in their leader to resign. The Speaker, K G Bopaiah, disqualified all the 16 defectors, including five who had been elected as Independent candidates, under the anti-defection law. Even commoners know that the Governor has no role to play in such matters and that the Speaker is the final authority and that his decisions can be challenged in a court of law. Throwing to winds all norms and constitutional propriety, the mighty Governor instructed the Speaker to maintain status quo of the House insisting that the latter had no authority to disqualify legislators. Bhardwaj’s claim that he knows the law better as he, as Union Law Minister, had drafted the 10th schedule is amusing. Will he please quote the clause that says Governor is the authority to disqualify any member of the Assembly? He is indeed a frustrated man whose game plan has gone awry.
Since the Karnataka High Court declined the request to grant interim stay to disqualified legislators, the Speaker stuck to his guns and declared the confidence motion carried by a voice vote. The angry Governor committed a grave constitutional and political blunder by recommending the dismissal of the BJP Government without waiting for the High Court verdict on the disqualified members’ petition against the Speaker’s order. Having realised that his political masters in Delhi were not amused by his improper and politically unwise action, the Governor took a U-turn and asked the Chief Minister to seek another vote of confidence. In his letter to the CM, he confessed that a second vote was not legally permissible but tamely observed that he was offering the latter another chance as a “friendly gesture”. He insisted that his offer was not intended to ridicule anybody but to put the record straight. The CM accepted the offer and once again proved his majority in the Assembly. In his bid to bulldoze the Speaker, the Governor indicted the latter for not giving seven days’ notice to rebels. The Governor’s observations were rebuffed by the division bench of the Karnataka High Court. Although the division bench was divided on the question of disqualification of 11 BJP MLAs, there was consensus among the two judges that the Speaker’s October 10 order didn’t violate the principles of natural justice or procedural rules and that enough notice was given to the petitioners. They also held that Speaker’s order was not passed with malafide intentions.
UPA Government’s reluctance to accept the Governor’s blatantly partisan and legally unsustainable recommendation to dismiss the Yeddyurappa Government was not because of constitutional propriety and adherence to political correctness. New Delhi’s options are limited. The Congress is wary of joining hands with the JD (S) to form an alternative Government in case the BJP Government is dislodged. And the party is not prepared for a mid-term poll in the state because of the mortal fear that BJP may return to power with a clear majority – what with the BJP Government’s track record on the development front and the sympathy wave BJP would be riding on. Further, the UPA lacks numbers in Rajya Sabha to get its motion for the dissolution of the Assembly carried. Last, but not the least, is the grave apprehension that the judiciary’s verdict may go against the dismissal of the Government and/or dissolution of the Assembly, should the Centre take any of these actions.
Governor Bhardwaj has played a grossly partisan role and lacks the restraint and even-handedness that are hallmarks of a constitutional head of state. He behaved like a small town politician and failed to maintain the dignity of the high office he occupies. By converting Raj Bhavan into the war-room of the Karnataka Congress, Bhardwaj has strengthened the public perception that he is a Congress agent rather than a representative of the President of India. Unmindful of constitutional proprieties, he hurled indignities on other constitutional authorities-the Chief Minister and the Speaker. He has proved himself totally unworthy to continue as the Governor of Karnataka. He should quit gracefully, failing which he should be recalled. His conduct has revived the debate about evolving an all party consensus on the need to consult state government concerned before zeroing in on a person to be appointed Governor of the state. The present system of appointment of governors suffers from numerous infirmities.