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Constitutionalism and morality

The Janata Dal (Secular) and the Bharatiya Janata Party have displayed rank opportunism in coming together to form a government in Karnataka just three weeks after they parted company with so much bitterness over the power-sharing arrangement. The JD(S) was not willing to honour its commitment to hand over the chief ministership to the BJP which withdrew support amidst charges of betrayal of trust. With the Congress unable or unwilling to do business with the JD(S) again, President’s rule became inevitable and, pending parliamentary approval, the Assembly was kept under suspended animation. Going by the public pronouncements of the three major parties, elections seemed to be the only way out. Yet large sections of the legislators were not quite prepared to face elections and the JD(S) leader M.P. Prakash — with the backing of the senior leaders, he has asserted — sought the support of the Congress to form a government. Even as those discussions were on, the JD(S) legislators led by former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy announced their readiness to support a BJP-led government with B.S. Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister, something that they could have done with better grace as soon as Mr. Kumaraswamy completed 20 months at the helm. In the process, the JD(S) has come out with its credibility badly damaged. The Congress too must take some part of the blame for the vitiated political atmosphere, having let local factors get in the way of building better relations with the JD(S), the party it had originally teamed up with.

While from the standpoint of political morality elections would be the ideal way of pulling the State out of the present morass, constitutionalism demands that Governor Rameshwar Thakur swear in a new BJP-JD(S) government led by Mr. Yeddyurappa that clearly has the support of the majority of the legislators. For it is the duty of the Governor to make efforts to form a government, and the power of dissolution can be legitimately invoked only when government formation becomes impossible or there is otherwise a breakdown of the constitutional machinery, not for other reasons. The Supreme Court made it clear in the Bihar Assembly dissolution case that neither the shifting stands of political parties nor even charges of horse trading, deals or allurements can be a ground for dissolving an Assembly. As the court observed, issues of good governance and cleansing the political system are “better left to the wisdom of others including the opposition and the electorate.” The United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre and the State Governor would do well to play by the constitution and not try to thwart the formation of the BJP-JD(S) government, however distasteful it may be to them.

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