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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 10, New Delhi, February 20, 2021

Karnataka Legislative Assembly: More representative, but less effective functionally | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 20 February 2021

by P. S. Jayaramu

An attempt is made in this article to analyse two important aspects of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly( KLA), firstly, how representative it has been over the decades and secondly, how effective its functioning has been.

Before getting down to tracing the representative character of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, it is pertinent to make a few observations about the importance of representative assemblies and elected representatives in a Parliamentary democratic system like that of India. As we know, representative democracy had its origin in England and the same was introduced by the British in India through the Government of India Acts of 1909,1919 and 1935. We followed the tradition after independence. As for Karnataka, the Princely State of Mysore had introduced representative assembly under the visionary Maharajas.

Talking about the duties of elected representatives, the British conservative scholar Edmund Burke, in his speech to the voters of Bristol inn 1774 said:

“It ought to be the happiness and glory of the elected representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him,their oipnions high respect, their business unremitting attention”.

Viewed in the present day context, one feels Burke’s observations are idealistic as modern day elected representatives, be it in Karnataka or India as a whole, are increasingly disconnected with their constituents. Their primary concern seems to be to achieve their personal ambitions or at best serve the interests of the Poliitical Party which has elected them and its supreme leader! The interests of the constituency and voters they represent occupy secondary importance in their scheme of things.

Representative Character of the KLA:

Getting back to the main theme, first let me focus my attention on the representation aspect of the Karnataka Assembly. As it happens in most democratic polities, representation of social groups (castes and communities) acquires prominence in the composition of the elected Assembly. Judged from this perspective, it is gratifying to note that the Karnataka Legislative Assembly has become more and more representative over the years though the major communities- the Lingayats and Vokkaligas- have dominated the Assembly. The first assembly in 1952, comprising largely of the old Mysore region, had 42 Vokkaliga and 18 Lingayat members, reflecting the caste composition of the State. The second Assembly which came into existence in 1957 after the Unification of the State comprising of the northern and Bombay Karnataka regions a Lingayat bastion, consequently had 73 Lingayats while the Vokkaligas increased their tally from 42 to 46 only. The SC, STs and OBC’s sent 29 and 19 representatives compared to their 1952 tally of 19 and 16 respectively. The Lingayat and Vokkaliga representation since then has hovered around 70 and 57 in 1967 and at 58 and 42 after the 2018 elections.

The representation of brahmins over the years has stayed largely in double digit, it was 06 in 1952, 18 in 1967 and 16 in 1978 and 1983 and presently stands at 14. The Muslim representation has ranged from a low of 06 in 1952 to a high of 18 in 1978 and presently stands declined to 07, while that of the Christians has ranged from 01in 1952 to 03 from 1962 to 1983 and presently stands at 01.(Data compiled from Karnataka Legislative Assembly Elections,

The composition of the OBCs, which was 12 in 1952, increased to 18 in 1967, to 36 in 1972 largely due to the efforts of Devaraj Urs. Their position increased gradually to reach 47 in 1989 and stands at 45 in the present Assembly.(Ibid)

The SC ST strength in the Assembly, which stood at 19 in 1952 and went up to 29 during 1957 to 1967 and to 37 in 1978. It hovered around the same figure during the 1980s and 1990s. The OBC representation went up to 51 after an increase in the number of reserved constituencies carried out in 2004. In the present Assembly there are 36 SC and 19 ST representatives.(Ibid)

From the above figures, it becomes clear that amidst a strong presence of the Lingayat and Vokkaliga members in the Assembly, the SC ST and OBC representation too has registered an impressive gain over the decades, leading to the conclusion that the Legislative Assembly has become more and more representative/ inclusive in character, which is remarkable. The same has to be seen against the caste/ community composition in the State which in 1952 was: Vokkaligas 20%, Lingayats 12%, Brahmins 3.8%, Depressed classes 15.1%, Kurubas 6.7%, Vaishyas, 3.8%, and Muslims 5.8%.( 1931 census cited by James Manor, Political Change in an Indian State, Mysore, 1917-1955, Delhi, Manohar, 1977, p.29) After the integration of northern and Hyderabad-Karnatak region into the State, the lingayat population went up considerably. Authentic caste-wise data is not available. However, religion-wise data reveals that Hindus constitute 85.9%, Muslims 11%, Christians 1.9%, and others 1.2%. (Source: Census of India, 2011).

Caste census commissioned by Mr. Siddaramaiah when he was Chief Minister is alleged to have fudged the figures stating that the Dalits constitute 19.5%, tribals 5%, Muslims 16%, Kurubas, 7% and the rest of the OBCs 16%. A Vokkaliga bureaucrat said:” if the findings are true, SC, STs, Muslims and Kurubas will decide the fate of Karnataka, our 70-year old hold over the State will be weakened”.(Quoted by D. P. Satish, 18th, March, 2018). In any case, the reality is that lingayats and vokkaligas have always accounted for 50% of the MPs and MLAs from the State, along with a greater share of ministerial positions, irrespective of the Party in power.

Working of the KLA:

As regards the working of the Legislative Assembly, data reveals that though it held sessions for a record 425 days during 1972-1978, preceded by 375 days during 1957-1961 and 366 days between 1962-1966, gradually in the 1980s and 1990s, the number days the House met came down to 200 plus days, to fall below 200 days since 2000, notwithstanding the decision taken in 2000 to hold annual sessions for not less than 60 days in a year. The 13th Assembly met for only 156 days from 2008-2012, while the 14th Assembly managed to hold sessions for 216 days from 2013 to February 2018.

According to the available data, the Karnataka Assembly sat for 33 days in 2018, a mere 18 days in 2019 and 31 days in 2020. In 2021, the Assembly met for 7 days as part of the winter session. The Budget session is slated to be held from 5th to 31st March, 2021.

Statistical details apart, the sessions in recent years have been marred by dharnas, walk outs and frequent adjournments coming in the way of meaningful transaction of legislative business and debates. The 13th Assembly witnessed a new low in parliamentary behaviour with a few members standing on the table, a member even tearing his shirt and waving it, with TV channels beaming pictures of it. The last session of the 14th Assembly passed a slew of bills without any discussion including the budget with the BJP members staging a walk out. The standard practice seems to be that of the Opposition obstructing the smooth conduct of business by resorting to dharnas, walking into the well of the House and finally walking out in protest against the attitudes and policies of the ruling Party. This seems to suit the ruling Parties who get the Bills passed amidst turmoil in the House by using their electoral majority. Recently, the Legislative Council passed the Anti Cow Slaughter Bill amidst pandemonium with the Opposition’s call for voting being ignored by the Chairman. It may be recalled that the three Farm Laws, against which farmers protest are going on presently was also passed by the Rajya Sabha in a similar fashion. The latter perhaps led to the former!

Decline of Legislatures:

From the above analytical survey, it is clear that while the representative character of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly has expanded over the decades, in terms of its functioning, the KLA has seen a sharp decline, which is a matter of regret. The popular perception too is that the Legislature has declined. This is true of not only Karnataka, but also the Legislatures all over the country including the Parliament. The issue of decline of Legislatures has been academically widely discussed. Interestingly, there is no agreement among scholars on the issue. Prof. K.C. Wheare in his celebrated book, Legislatures ( London, OUP, 1967) noted that though the decline of Legislatures is an interesting question, it is difficult to decide if Legislatures have declined. He argued that that the decline has often been not in its powers, but in its efficiency.(p.157).

Subash Kashyap, a former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha, in his book,’ Parliament of India: Myths and Realities’ puts up a strong defence of the Parliamentarians, specially the phenomenon of the elite class being replaced by representatives from disadvantaged sections of the society and that given their educational attainments, we need not be unduly purturbed about their Parliamentary behaviour (P.630) He however does not condone shirking of responsibilities by the members. Striking an opposite view, Madhav Godbole, in his well researched book, India’s Parliamentary Democracy on Trail ( New Delhi, Rupa & Co, 2011)says ‘our MLAs and MPs are far removed from the people, coming largely from the well off sections of the society’. Godbole’s views are not wide off the mark regarding Karnataka too, where even the farmers who get into the Assembly are relatively rich land owners.

Suggestions for reforming the KLA:

Academic perspectives apart, one sees a definite deterioration in the functioning of the KLA. To arrest it and to improve its functioning, the following suggestions are made.: 1) The Ruling and Opposition parties should commit themselves to uninterrupted conduct of 60 days sessions in a year as agreed upon already and agree to work for extra days to compensate for loss of man hours due to adjournments, etc. 2) The Speaker should be vested with the power to convene sessions unlike the present practice of the ruling party deciding it. 3) Question Hour be completed within the stipulated time to allow transaction of the agenda fixed for the day.4) Calling Attention Motions on issues of public importance be taken up after 4 pm so as not to upset the scheduled legislative business. 5) legislative scrutiny of Bills be mandatorily carried out. 6) Strict monitoring of the attendance and performance of members in the House and display of absence without prior approval of the Speaker and unparliamentary behavior by members be done on the notice board and the KLA website. 7)Members trooping into the well of the House be suspended for the rest of the week. 8) Ministers be compulsorily present in the House to furnish replies to questions raised by members. 9) Increase In salaries and allowances of the members be decided by a Commission appointeed by the Government and not by members themselves. 10) Live telecasting of the proceedings of the House to help voters observe the ‘legislative behaviour and performance of their representatives. It is hoped that adherence to these suggestions will bring about the much needed qualitative change in the functioning of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. Needless to say, the above suggestions can be incorporated by the other Legislative Assemblies in the Country and the Union Parliament too.

(The writer is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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