The lessons from the Karnataka imbroglio
It suggests a breakdown of institutions and an erosion of constitutional morality.Updated: Jul 22, 2019 07:59 IST
After a prolonged political crisis, the Karnataka assembly may witness a vote today. And this will determine if the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government survives or makes way for either fresh elections or a new government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There has been enough written about the decay of political morality in the state, the spate of defections, the ruthless quest for power on both sides, and the perils of a fractured mandate which created the situation in the first place.
But there are two larger takeaways from the Karnataka crisis, which are far more worrying. The first is a complete breakdown of institutions. Each actor in the political system has a well-defined responsibility. The Governor is meant to be a non-partisan figure, above the fray, who does not dabble in politics. The Speaker is meant to be the head of the legislature, who acts in accordance with rules, without favouring any particular side. But in Karnataka, instead of the ruling alliance and the Opposition battling it out, there has been a rather open battle between the Governor -- seen as sympathetic to the BJP -- and the Speaker -- seen as sympathetic to the JD(S)-Congress combine. If individuals representing institutions act in such a prejudiced manner, and disregard the rules of the game, faith in the democratic system itself would diminish.
The second takeaway -- a logical corollary of the first -- is that Karnataka represents the erosion of constitutional morality. The Constitution is predicated on the hope that all actors would exercise restraint, and they would submit to due and formal processes in case a conflict erupts. In Bengaluru, over the past week, no actor has observed restraint -- the actions of dissident Members of Legislative Assembly, and the fact that they are being lured by both sides, is a glaring example. And there has also been an unwillingness to let formal processes -- the confidence vote, in this case -- take its own course. This has meant dangerously stepping out of constitutional boundaries. If the example is emulated elsewhere, politicians will end up being increasingly reckless in acquiring power. It is time for the political class to pause and reflect on the consequences of their action.