Notice of intent

Governor H R Bhardwaj’s notice to three ministers of the Karnataka Government to appear before him in connection with a petition addressed to him seeking their disqualification, has understandably turned into a political tug of war between the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress. The petition, filed by some Congress leaders, seeks the disqualification of G Janardhana Reddy, G Karunakara Reddy and S Sreeramulu on the grounds that their status as ministers conflicted with their business in mining which required government licence, approval and clearances. A dispassionate look at the petition’s arguments, the lackadaisical attitude of the government towards the rapacious exploitation of the state’s natural resources and the charges made by the Reddys’ business rivals raise some grave questions. None has any doubt that as members of the Council of Ministers, and given their financial and political clout, the Reddys and Sreeramulu are in a position to influence government policies. Whether this has actually happened is what the Governor, it is assumed, is trying to examine.

The Reddys’ contention that the Governor has no powers to examine charges against them is ingenuous. Article 191 of the Constitution empowers the Governor to disqualify members of the State Assembly. While the Reddys’ response to the Governor’s summons has been less than respectful, the Governor’s subsequent reaction to their defiance — a threat to refer the notices to the Election Commission — was avoidable.
But the big question remains: Should the Governor have issued notices to the ministers, bypassing the Chief Minister? As a noted lawyer who rose to become the Law Minister of India, Bhardwaj may have been ill-advised on this score. The Governor, although instrumental in appointing the Chief Minister, is bound to act on the advice of the Chief Minister. And as the appointment of each minister is a prerogative of the Chief Minister, the latter assumes the responsibility of each minister’s actions. In that background, the Governor’s actions would have carried more conviction and weight if he had passed on Congress legislator Kondaiah’s petition to the Chief Minister and the presiding officers of the legislature for their consideration and awaited their response before acting on it. The Governor should not only be above party politics, but also should be seen to be above it.

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