Dwelling on controversies or creating them is the basis of survival for India’s vulture channels that pretend they are disseminating news. This may suit politicians, for whom publicity is oxygen, even if adverse. However, anyone with discretion should shun even watching such channels. This is the only way to stop them from sensationalising just about anything.
Two competing vulture channels last week tried to engineer a controversy over a prelate’s pastoral letter that urged the faithful to pray for the nation as general elections were not far away. “May the ethos of true democracy envelop our elections with dignity and the flames of honest patriotism enkindle our political leaders. This is our cry, Heavenly Father, in these troubled times as we see the clouds eclipsing the light of truth, justice and freedom,” reads the prayer.
The two vulture channels interpreted this to mean as a message and a prayer against the Narendra Modi Government and the BJP. A guilty conscience seems to have infuriated the Government and leaders of the BJP too, who honestly should be glad that there are people willing to pray for them even now.
While the prelate should have been left to explain his position and be done with it, more church leaders joined in to the merriment of the vultures.
There have been numerous occasions when this column advised leaders of the church to be discreet while making public comments. Even though none seem wiser by them or the present experience, I would like to point out to those anointed and specially chosen to serve God to take extra care to ensure that they have nothing to do with Caesar.
However, a party that made a mutt head the Chief Minister of a state, whose leaders have been continuously endorsed by babas and godmen of all hues and whose leaders talk of graveyards and crematoriums during elections have no right to ask another religious head to back off. It is a different matter though that Christians should continue to believe in the separation of Church and State.
Challenge For Congress
The battle of Karnataka has only begun for the Congress. It would be an uphill task for it to keep the alliance government going because of the inherent contradictions of supporting the Janata Dal (Secular) which vie for the same vote base.
Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and his father may appear as ‘humble farmers’ but are known for manipulating and two-timing. With the general elections less than a year away, any crack in the alliance would be projected by the BJP-supporting corporate media as Congress’ failure.
Although it has a proven track-record of being the only party to successfully lead a coalition government at the Centre for a full term, twice, the Congress faces the challenge of remaining the coalition leader. Hence it has become inevitable for the party to keep the BJP at bay in Karnataka at least till the Lok Sabha elections are concluded.
Bringing down the Karnataka government for the BJP, hence, is one of the most important tasks. Kumaraswamy winning a trust vote will not stop the BJP from tapping disgruntled elements in the coalition to bring down the government any time before LS polls.
Checking the BJP by offering the CM-ship to JDS was a smart move. But it would need all the skills of all Congress veterans and its state leadership to keep the coalition intact.
BJP had fallen short of majority only by less than 10 seats in a big state and deserved to form the government more than Congress-JDS. However, BJP had after Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya asserted that the party which can find enough numbers in a hung verdict had the right to form the government.
This is what prompted the Congress to support JDS. However, it is time for grey areas which give ‘discretionary powers’ to the President and governors to be removed and rules clearly laid down by the Supreme Court of India.
As we know, the Bommai verdict has become the law of the land on deciding how a government can be dismissed under Article 356 and in making assemblies and Parliament the right forum for a party or group to prove its majority.
Similarly, the Supreme Court needs to lay down the rules, not guidelines, on what exactly a governor or President needs to do before inviting anyone to form the government in a hung House.
A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Arjan Kumar Sikri, Sharad Arvind Bobde and Ashok Bhushan — which on May 18 asked the Yeddyurappa Government to immediately prove its majority — has given an assurance to the Congress legal team of senior advocates Abhishekh Manu Singhvi, Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram that the issues on whether Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala followed the correct procedure would be decided later.
To ensure that the verdict on the rules laid down are binding on future decisions that the governor or President takes, it would, however, be best if a Constitution Bench of at least five or even seven judges is constituted to decide on the issues pending before the three-judge bench.
This is important to prevent any conflicting verdict that may be given by another bench. Misinterpretation of the Constitution and law by lawyers happens often. Right now, there are enough BJP elements masquerading as experts on the Constitution and who appear on news channels to say right is wrong and wrong is right. Even a respectable lawyer like K K Venugopal suggested to the SC bench a secret ballot for Yeddyurappa’s trust vote when compelled to do something to save the BJP Government in Karnataka as he was Modi Government’s Attorney-General.
Such being the state of how laws are interpreted, it is best that a Constitution Bench clearly lay down the parameters to be followed before one is invited to form a government so that governors or their handlers cannot misuse their offices in future in case of a hung House or when someone else claims majority during the tenure of a ministry.
There were some golden principles laid down by President K R Narayanan in his letter while inviting A B Vajpayee to form the Government in 1998. He made it clear that the choice of largest party cannot be the sole criteria if it comes to the notice of the President/governor that there may be a group of parties that has the numbers to provide a stable government. Narayanan had emphasised on the Governor or President applying her/his mind. Since Vala has proved it does not happen, let’s have clear rules so that no one can easily initiate horse-trading.