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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 30, July 16, 2011

In God We Trust … Rest Strictly Cash!!

Wednesday 20 July 2011, by Sandeep Shastri

The politics of Karnataka has verily become the theatre of the absurd! Having been ‘sworn- in‘ three years ago to govern the State, the political leadership was heading for a ‘swear- out‘ at Dharmasthala, an important seat of religion and spirituality in the State. This was to affirm one’s commitment to the truth. The Chief Minister (B.S. Yeddyurappa) challenging a former Chief Minister (H.D. Kumaraswamy) to testify before God at Dharmasthala by means of a government advertisement in all leading newspapers is clearly something exceptional in a secular state. The fact that the challenge was accepted was equally shocking. Before the days of plastic money, many shops had a board ‘In God we Trust, Rest Strictly Cash‘. This seems to be the new mantra of the political leadership in the State.

The slanging match between the Chief Minister, B. S. Yeddyurappa, and the former Chief Minister and President of the State unit of the Janata Dal (S), H. D. Kumaraswamy, is nothing new. Charges and counter-charges have been flying around for quite sometime. It would be useful to recall that the two ran a brief coalition government in 2006. With the BJP coming to power in 2008, Kumaraswamy and his JD(S) have virtually been the principal Opposition, with the Congress preferring to remain on the sidelines. The latest episode in their political battle is the charge that Kumaraswamy made alleging that the Chief Minister’s emissaries had sought to strike a deal with him in order to end the attack on the Chief Minister. In an immediate reaction, the Chief Minister challenged Kumara-swamy to an oath before God at the Dharmasthala temple.

There are many interesting dimensions to this amazingly strange development. First, in a secular state, can the wielders of political office take recourse to action at a religious place to resolve a patently public issue? Beyond doubt one has a right to one’s religious beliefs and practices in the private domain. However, this needs to be clearly limited to that personal zone. Especially when one occupies a public position in a secular democratic polity, it requires an individual to remain within the boundaries as prescribed by the position. Any elected represen-tative takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and abide by the laws of the land. It would be relevant to record that the Directives Principles, outlined in the Constitution, mandate that the government shall promote among the citizens a ‘scientific temper‘. It would be difficult to convince oneself that such actions would set an example for citizens to cultivate a scientific temper.

Further, in a democratic polity, the common citizens are the ultimate authority. The final responsibility of public authorities is to the citizens. A democratic polity also puts in place a system of accountability. Rather than abide by those processes, the political leadership appears to have decided to tread a path of accountability which neither has public sanction nor provides for demonstrable proof of accountability, responsibility and answerability. The floor of the legislature is the best arena for such a debate and discussion. There is also a legal system which the leadership could have taken recourse to (the Chief Minister has now decided to file a defamation case against Kumaraswamy in the light of the widespread criticism of the ‘Dharmasthala test‘) or an appeal before the Lok Ayukta in the State. These routes were initially ignored and a highly surcharged emotional appeal to an oath before God was resorted to!

One is not making out a case for not trusting in God or religion. Every citizen of this country has a right to determine their level and intensity of religiosity. This, however, is confined to the sphere of one’s private life. Especially when one occupies an elected public position, one needs to follow the rules of the game that do credit to any secular state. By leaving it to God, political leaders are abdicating an important public responsibility that they have accepted. They have accepted to act as per the Constitution and to be accountable to the institutions and processes created by it. Especially when the issues/ charges involve nepotism, corruption and misuse of public office, recourse to settling the matter before God is clearly not in ‘sync‘ with the best of traditions of secular democratic practice.

Dr Sandeep Shastri is a political analyst who is the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Jain University, Bengaluru. He can be reached at sshastri@eth.net

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