Despotism can't kill club spirit

The Karnataka government machinery has rarely been as active and efficient as is being seen now – not concerning poverty alleviation,  infrastructure development, literacy programmes, etc., but something as trivial as the management of the elite Bangalore Club and, for good measure, other clubs.

The government’s Excise Department has taken the lead in cracking the whip against the Bangalore Club apparently because it had the temerity to challenge the version of high-ranking IPS officer R P Sharma who alleged his car driver had been assaulted by the club’s security guard and filed a police complaint to that effect.

Eyewitnesses at the club countered the version saying it was the guard who had been assaulted by the officer’s entourage. Sharma’s club membership was suspended for a month pending an enquiry. All hell broke loose in the officialdom. The excise department came down on the club with all guns blazing, found there were lapses in implementing its licence and banned liquor from the club for a month. 

While Sharma and the government deny the actions were linked, the reasonable impression is that it reeks of vindictiveness. Apparently in support has come the statement of Bengaluru Urban District Deputy Commissioner V Shankar that “the violation was serious and hence the government had to act.”

That there may have been a slip up by the Club in adhering to the excise licence and other rules is not being questioned, but the overnight raid (without notice) and action against the Club for something that had been overlooked all these years is what is troublesome. For, the takeaway from the episode is that private individuals or institutions cannot afford to challenge officers of the government. If they do, the state will not hesitate to use its clout against these ‘offending’ busybodies. This has grave implications for democratic norms and the rule of law.

There is a related background to the government’s action even if it did not directly play a role. For several years, elected representatives and officials of the government have vied for memberships to the various clubs, especially those located in the heart of the city. Bangalore Club tops the list, but entry is next to impossible. The waiting period runs into at least 15 years. The government has tried to use its powers in several ways to ensure its ministers, legislators and officials get the much-coveted membership.

One recent case was the reported arm-twisting by the government to get memberships at the Bangalore Turf Club, but in vain. While it is indeed irksome that everyone cannot be accommodated into these clubs, the solution is not in using extraneous means. The government needs to introspect and act in a manner that is not just fair, but also seen to be fair.

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