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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 25 New Delhi June 9, 2018

Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Constitutional Morality and Karnataka Elections

Sunday 10 June 2018

by S.N. Sahu

The Karnataka Assembly election results of 2018 have been seen from many perspectives of power politics and their critical importance have been underlined for shaping the possible electoral arithmetic of the general elections of 2019. It is extremely significant that the Karnataka elections and the post-poll alliance forged by the Congress and JD(S) should be seen from the perspectives of constitutional morality and employment of the constitutional method which Dr B.R. Ambedkar passionately advocated in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly and the cultivation of which was driven home by him as a crucial factor for the governance of India.

While analysing the multiple dimensions of the Karnataka elections and the formation of government in that State none so far has invoked the perspectives of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B.R. Ambedkar. Their perspectives put in place the moral and constitutional basis of power politics in contrast to the sheer manipulation and machinations based on money power and crude employment of authority to lure and tempt the elected MLAs to go beyond their party discipline and switch sides to support the single largest party which lacked simple majority to form the government. It was evident from many audio tapes played in some channels and the statement of Ram Madhav of the BJP who, while answering a question as to how the BJP would enlist the support of adequate MLAs to achieve a simple majority for Shri Yeddyurappa to win the floor test, famously answered that they have Amit Shah with them to take care. Such statements are self-explanatory.

The top leadership of the ruling party at the Centre claimed in no uncertain terms that more honour has been bestowed on Dr B.R. Ambedkar by the their dispensation than the earlier dispensations including that of the Congress. The best test of such honour bestowed on Dr Ambedkar would be indicated by the measures taken to follow his ideals and principles.

In December 1947 Mahatma Gandhi, while reflecting on the role of Governors, had insightfully said that “theirs must be an all-pervasive moral influence in their provinces”. The very first step of the Governor of Karnataka to extend invitation to Yeddyurappa, the leader of the single largest party, to form the government and go for floor test constituted a violation of the moral and constitutional method of forming the government set by the Supreme Court in the context of Goa where the Governor of that State invited not the single largest party but a combination of parties forming a post-poll alliance by enlisting the support of many elected MLAs and achieving a simple majority. When the decision of the Goa Governor to invite the parties forming post-poll alliance in place of the single largest party was challenged in the Supreme Court, the latter did not stay the decision of the Governor and asked the post-poll alliance to face the floor test in the Goa Assembly in twentyfour hours. The single largest party was not invited to form the government and the post-poll alliance won the floor test as per the direction of the Supreme Court. In other words, what was done by the Supreme Court in the case of Goa constituted the law of the land as per Article 141 of the Constitution. It essentially meant that the Supreme Court determined the constitutional method to form the government in the event of a hung Assembly where no party gets the majority.

Dr Ambedkar had said that there would be a grammar of anarchy if the constitutional method would not be followed to achieve the objectives enshrined in the Constitution. One of the objectives enshrined in the Constitution is the formation of the government based on the mandate of the people and the roles played by the constitutional authorities such as Governors of States.

There could have been a grammar of anarchy in Karnataka because the Governor of the State did not stick to the law established by the Supreme Court in the context of Goa and invited the leader of the single largest party, Shri Yeddyurappa, who could not clearly show as to how he had enough numbers with him to prove majority support within fifteen days time-span given to him by none other than the Governor in complete disregard of the conventions which clearly show that in most such cases less than one week’s time had been given for the floor test. The fact that Shri Yeddyurappa could not face the floor test and eventually resigned clearly proved the point that the decision of the Governor to invite him to form the government was not based on serious application of mind and correct assessment of the majority support as claimed by Shri Yeddyurappa. Such glaring lapses and violation of the constitutional method by none other than the Governor who takes the oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution pose a grave danger to the Constitution itself. It is inconsistent with the constitutional morality, the comprehensive cultivation of which was stressed by Dr Ambedkar as a method of conducting the governance of India and ensuring equality and equal opportunity for citizens who are subjected to the system of social stratification often deepened by caste, religion and many other social and economic categories.

Thankfully the impending grammar of anarchy that could have emerged and been sustained in Karnataka was stemmed by the Supreme Court the doors of which were knocked at midnight by the political formations forging a post-alliance to stake claim for forming the government. The alertness and promptness displayed by the Congress and Janata Dal(S) in forming the post-poll alliance and staking claim to form the government were based on the method suggested by the Sarkaria Commission and Punchchi Commission and, therefore, form part of the constitutional method which needs to be upheld to avoid arbitrary and whimsical employment of discretionary power by incumbents occupying the constitutional post of Governor in such situations.

In the case of Karnataka, the Supreme Court heard the matter at midnight and the hearing continued till the morning. The very method of approaching the Supreme Court by the affected parties validated the triumph of the constitutional method the employment of which is a sure pointer towards the realisation of the objectives enshrined in the Constitution of India. The manner in which the Bench of the Supreme Court was formed at midnight and the process of adjudication was taken forward till the morning proved the point advanced by the senior counsel of the petitioner that “justice never sleeps”. Access to justice is central to the right to employ the constitutional method which Dr Ambedkar so thoughtfully articulated in the Constituent Assembly.

The order of the Supreme Court that the floor test should be conducted in two days to test the majority support for Yeddyurappa instead of fifteen days mandated by the Governor and the further direction of the Apex Court that a pro tem Speaker should be appointed and the seats earmarked for nominated Members in the Karnataka Assembly should not be filled up by the Chief Minister and that he should not take any major policy decision before proving majority support in the Assembly, put in place the legal framework within which the Chief Minister should seek the floor test. Subsequently when apprehension was expressed that the pro tem Speaker, appointed by the Governor, might not act fairly as he was indicted earlier by the Supreme Court while conducting a floor test for Yeddyurappa some years back, the Apex Court allowed the direct telecast and videograph of the proceedings of the floor test to make it transparent. Such measures yet again consti-tuted a step towards using the constitutional method more transparently and effectively for the cause of justice and rule of law.

Such triumph of Ambedkar’s vision by using the constitutional method and constitutional morality for dealing with the formation of the State Government in Karnataka serves the cause to deepen public reasoning in democracy. In fact the grammar of anarchy wrought by the communal and fascist forces in twentyfirst century India has to be countered by widespread adoption of the constitutional method which often gets undermined in a calculated manner to register political gains. Application of the constitutional method deepens public reasoning and helps to use democracy and democratic methods more creatively for achieving the goals enshrined in the Constitution. The triumph of constitutional morality and constitutional method in the context of the Karnataka elections augurs well for our democratic polity. It has to be taken forward and deepened at a time when there is imminent danger to the Constitution from forces and formations which proclaim from time to time their desire to review or revise the Constitution. Employing the constitutional method extensively in the context of the conditions prevailing in Karnataka was aimed to uphold the Constitution and preserve, protect and defend it. This is the larger meaning and significance of the victory of the post-poll alliance in Karnataka.

The author served as the Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to the President of India, late K.R. Narayanan, and had a tenure as Director in the Prime Minister’s Office when Dr Manmohan Singh was the PM. The views expressed here are personal.

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