Karnataka- Again our MLAs cede moral space to Elites and Intellectuals

The process of government formation in Karnataka recently became a major controversy. The role of the Governor, political parties and the court came into much discussion

In the melee a political situation was hijacked by the elites who started to moralize about elected politicians. It’s a trap unfortunately which our political leadership succumbs to time and again. I believe that the positions taken by our intellectuals, thought leaders and journalists reflected their own bias instead of a genuine interest in democracy. There was the usual lampooning of political parties and the comfort in calling all politicians corrupt. The conflict was positioned as one set of politicians on the prowl on a buying spree and another set being saved by being abducted and hidden away to prevent them from being sold. The narrative was one of Venal Vs Venal warlords competing to save democracy. As a sideshow another set of warring journalists and ‘intellectuals’, enslaved by their fixed positions took to their respective sides and attacked each other in this puerile show.

What should be solved through democracy is sought to be saved by institutions, and when it suits them, political high commands strategise to rely on courts on a matter which is really not for courts to solve. The process of Government formation was positioned in this case as one of corrupt MLAs, shorn of any morality or ideology, & being  up for sale. This is insulting to our democracy and it is surprising how legislators would allow such an impression be perpetuated about them. That it was a part of submissions in court that legislators will be bought, and further that legislators themselves allowed themselves to be confined to a hotel/resort in this period is truly disappointing. The position taken was elite politicking more than people’s politics. We are a democracy that routinely shows our politicians in a bad light. This is not good. It takes a lot of courage to get into electoral politics, far more than politics by other means.

We will now have a Government made up of people no one will look up to. Even though each MLA won in his own constituency he would be seen as having united in Government by being restrained from taking bribes. The opposition MLA who also won will be seen as a sullen loser.

It is sad that this will be the impression about them, especially because it will be an incorrect one. A Government so formed will be full of contradictions and will not serve the interests of the State.This weakens democracy and people’s power. This empowers elites and the bureaucracy.

While I do not Know Karnataka politics, I do know that Governments cannot just be formed by buying off legislators. If that were so, the party with the deepest pockets would simply buy off the parliament. If money or inducement/ coercion was so simple then between funds and CBI or ED etc any bill could be made to pass in parliament

Elected leaders have to face people on a daily basis, they also have to face their families, friends, peer groups, and they have to look at their long term political prospects before they take a decision. Even the most turncoat politician is sensitive to his constituency as well as his beliefs. This is not to say that money does not play a role at all in decision making but that money is not the sole consideration. Often money is not the consideration at all

For a stable government in a fractured mandate the solution is not courts interfering to save democracy but legislators resorting to more democracy. What has happened in Karnataka positions elected MLAs in a shameful position and it should not be repeated. It reinforces the belief that the politician who rises from the ground and elected by common people is an immoral person. While the perpetuation of this image suits the elite, it is fallacious and should not be reinforced.

For a stable government, where a pre poll alliance does not exist & requisite majority does not exist for the largest party would it be more democratic if we tried the following?

The Governor will in most cases tend to favour the dispensation that afforded him his position. The counter to that are not courts, but the newly elected legislators themselves. I propose that in such cases a 3 month period should be given and let all political parties resort to   politics. It will be hard to keep many MLA in resorts for that long in isolation. The newly elected MLA will have to get back to their constituency and will Willy nilly get a feedback from voters. In the current scenario, the short period allows them to act only as party representatives subject to party ‘whip’ and not consider how voters feel about their newly considered alignment. But given three months they will come under questioning from their voters and the media. In this time they will start to let their high command know what the pulse on the ground is. One should not forget that the rival candidate who lost the election will also rake up the issue among people. It will not be that easy to just ‘buy’ someone off by creating an unnecessary emergency.

I do not want to quibble on the time period. It may be 45 days or 2 months but the intent is not to hurry the process but to give it sufficient time. All in all, public opinion will pressurize the elected MLAs to take decisions more carefully. In this time all democratic negotiating happens with the political friends and rivals, peer groups, political NGOs and parleying with the media. It is mostly democratic deal making, negotiating, convincing and arguing. That’s part and parcel of our culture.

It is a settled matter that if the largest party is not in a position to form the Government, then the leader of the post poll alliance be called to form the Government. That is fair and should usually be the course taken. However in the Karnataka the leader of JDS, a party with the smallest mandate and one which only won regionally was prompted to head the state. This is perverse. Had it been a Congress CM with JDS support the matter would have been different as the Congress party had the highest vote share. It therefore becomes all the more important that legislators were given a long enough period to navigate through public opinion and negotiate accordingly. The Governor should in such cases exercise his discretion by giving elected more time rather than less.

That is democracy. Three months is not that a long time when a 5 year stable Govt has to be established and it is likely that a lasting government would emerge through this process than a hastily cobbled one.


*The Sarkaria Commission recommended that a Chief Minister, unless he is the leader of a party which has absolute majority in the Assembly, should seek a vote of confidence in the Assembly within 30 days of taking over. This is only a recommendation and not a constitutional binding.

Also read – Oligarchy of the Unelected-  https://ashutoshdixitblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/oligarchy-of-the-unelected/

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One thought on “Karnataka- Again our MLAs cede moral space to Elites and Intellectuals

  1. Anand prasad says:

    Well made point Ashutosh, as a nation we don’t seem to have the stomach to allow democracy to operate to its fullest. Anand

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