Karnataka: Lessons of Law, Politics, Morality & Conduct” by Dr. Abhishek Singhvi

The Karnataka episode, although clearly a heady cocktail of politics, constitutional law, propriety, morality and realpolitik, has many lessons for the future.

Firstly, it underlines the need for judicial adjudication to be as specific and categorical as possible. Once a right is recognised by a court, especially the apex court, its remedy must not only follow but be effectuated down to the last detail. It is because this has not frequently happened in past judgements that recurring aberrations occur. A case by case approach is either too little too late or does not provide any guidance for the future. This is the reason that we asked the court to keep the Karnataka case alive for future final adjudication despite conclusion of its immediate context. Eventually, the court must lay down specifically that which was already identified in Bommai or in the Bihar Rameshwar case, as scourges afflicting the system, but not effectively addressed to the last detail, thereby permitting distressing and avoidable repetitions. Those earlier judgements did not (and we hope this one does) lay down specifically the sequence and priority in which political formations must be called at the time of installing a government, post-election.

Secondly, there should be specific acceptance or rejection of different paras/sub paras of Sarkaria and/or Punchhi Commission reports, not mere multiple references or extensive quotations therefrom, without clarifying whether they were adopted as mandatory rules by the Supreme Court (regrettable omissions of both Bommai and Rameshwar.
Thirdly, they should categorically state that, absent clear majority, a pre-poll alliance at or crossing the majority mark should be called first; a single largest party below majority mark should be called if and only if it indicates in its letter of claim, with some details (eg. names and signatures), those others and independents with whom it intends to cross the majority mark. The third priority category would be a post-poll alliance asserting, again with names and signatures, a majority plus figure.

Fourthly, irrespective of merits, the Supreme Court’s evaluation of emergency followed by a marathon night hearing deserves unconditional and comprehensive applause. It is a matter of pride that the Indian apex court, unlike most others, can be moved in this fashion, once they are convinced of urgency involving matters of fundamental importance. Little did the BJP realise that itwas they who helped us tremendously on this score. The Governor’s invitation at 930 pm followed by BSY’s immediate assertion of a swearing in at 9 am the next morning, left the apex court with no option but to sit at night. The apex Court’s night sitting itself showed its determination to see that the remedy must follow the right to the end.

Fifthly, the psychological impact of the SC’s approach should not be underestimated. At the political level, it gave a great fillip and restored espirit-de-corps to a somewhat dejected Congress cadre. More importantly, it sent a clear message to those fence sitters with fickle loyalties and to political acrobats, that the final result was still uncertain and that there was a stern and fearsome judicial supervisor overseeing everything.
Sixthly, the Congress-JDS marriage, since it was baptised by fire, reflected a very welcome uniting of diverse forces transcending Karnataka. Politically, it continues to reflect both in the more yielding approaches of the two parties in ministry making as also the convergence of diverse strands of the political spectrum at the swearing in on 23rd May. Mayawati and Mamata picking up the phone and talking to HDK in a matter not directly concerning them or their states, is a symbolism which the BJP can ignore only at its peril.
Seventhly, without throwing the baby out with the bath water (i.e, without abolishing the post of Governor altogether), specificity by SC regarding minimum stipulated time periods and sequence, mode and manner of proceedings in such situations is the best long term panacea. Idealistic sermonising without a specific set of guidelines regarding time limits and mode of action (regrettable omissions of past judicial precedents), has served only the cause of lawyers (!) and generated future disputes without imparting clarity.

Eighthly, it is interesting that although the BJP started with some sympathy as being the single largest party, its arrogance and hypocrisy has erased all such feelings, as if by a magical wand. The brazen display of allurements and blandishments, including, allegedly, by no less than the CM and his son, caught on candid tape/camera, has permanently besmirched BJP reputations going up to the top.


Ninthly, it is tragic that till the very end, as far as the court is concerned, the highest law officers of the government and counsel for BSY were instructed and did seek a secret ballot (the only raison d’être of which is to court Lady M), oppose vehemently any fetters on the CM’s powers to act even without a floor test, choose the one person out of 104 MLAs as protem Speaker who had been strictured strongly and categorically by the Supreme court and importuned strongly for a minimum  window for the floor test till Monday, 21st May. That many of these things did not happen is not for lack of desperate attempts till the eleventh hour but because the SC was astute enough to see through such tactics.

Last but not the least, election after election, from UP to Bihar, from Goa to Karnataka (where even the Congress alone fetched more vote share than BJP and a pre poll alliance would have yielded minimum 51% to 55% seats), teaches us the vital necessity of preventing the anti BJP vote division. Such strategic pre poll alliances which effectuate this must commonsensically be axiomatic. Such alliances are always compromises, hence, at the highest, second or third best solutions plus they involve submergence of giant egos. But that is why they should be strived for, at least a year before the 2019 elections.

( The author is MP; National Spokesperson, Congress; fmr Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee & former Addl Solicitor General. Views are personal for economic times)

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