Karnataka State Government went to vote of confidence in the assembly on Monday morning, but the outcome was not a simple win or loss. It was marred by chaotic scenes, MLA’s protesting, Speaker declaring BJP winners through a voice vote and bizarrely enough, the Karnataka Governor Hansraj Bhardwaj recommending President’s rule.
In the 225-member strong Karnataka Assembly, BJP now has 106 seats, with Congress at 73 and JD(S) at 28. Speaker K G Bopaiah and a nominated candidate fill the other two seats. 11 BJP dissidents and 5 Independents have been disqualified by the speaker. The disqualification gave BJP a slender margin and helped it win the vote of confidence.
Whether the Speaker was right in disqualifying the MLA’s is something which the High Court will decide on 18th Oct. But what has really sparked the controversy is the way Karnataka Governor Hansraj Bhardwaj went overboard to declare the voting illegal and apparently also sent request to the Center seeking imposition of President’s rule in Karnataka. Governor as such do not have a clear-cut right to interfere in the proceedings of the State assembly, but Karnataka Governor has been on a collision course with the BJP led Government for quite sometime now.
In July 2010, Bhardwaj made comments on the powerful Bellary brothers, who are ministers in the B.S. 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. On Oct 10, a day before the vote of confidence was to take place, he asked the Speaker not to disqualify the rebel MLA’s and allow them to vote. In essence, the message was clear. If the rebel MLA’s were made to vote, the Government would have fallen. Even if the MLA’s were disqualified after that, the BJP Govt would still have fallen in the state. This would have paved way for the Governor to invite Congress and JD(S) to form a Govt in the state. However, Speaker K G Bopaiah ignored the Governor’s advice, disqualified the rebel MLA’s and BJP won the vote of confidence through a voice vote on Oct 11th.
The question here is was the Governor correct in going all-out to ensure a BJP defeat in the state assembly? In a Democracy such as ours, Governor of a state is considered to be just an emissary of the President. Hence he can not of his own volition act as administrator of the sate nor of his own volition interfere in the administration of the state & nor of his own volition manipulate & facilitate the overthrow the democratically elected government of any state. So Governor Bhardwaj’s conduct does seem quite inappropriate.
Hansraj Bhardwaj is an Indian National Congress member and is considered quite close to the Gandhi family. No one has forgotten his utterly controversial initiative to de-freeze two bank accounts of Ottavio Quattrocchi, an accused in the Bofors Scam case, in March 2009. It even emerged that he did not consult CBI on this, the principal investigating agency which had gotten the accounts frozen in the first place.
One must also not forget what happened in Bihar in 2005. Governor Buta Singh recommended the dissolution of the BJP+JD(U) Govt under the pretext that they were resorting to unfair means to secure support to form a Govt. However, Supreme Court took a very serious note of Buta Singh’s decision and said that the decision was taken in a haste and for the purpose of not allowing a particular party to form the Govt. Incidentally, similar to Governor Bhardwaj, Buta Singh is a member of the Indian National Congress as well.
On Tuesday, High Court adjourned the matter till 18th Oct and gave no interim orders on the disqualifications of the 16 MLA’s. Naturally, the decision was a set back for the Governor. He quickly back tracked on his words of asking for a President’s rule in the state and instead has now asked BJP to prove majority once again in the state on Oct 14th. Whether BJP wins or loses the trust vote will only be known on 14th, but the entire episode will be remembered for the way Governor conducted it.
It’d also be interesting to see if the developments in Karnataka have any fallout on the upcoming Bihar Assembly Elections.