Karnataka’s shamocracy: Nobody is fooled

Karnataka’s shamocracy: Nobody is fooled

It’s unlikely that common folk will buy the explanation that these are democracy’s warriors.

Everyone in Karnataka recognises the problem with the current coalition government: The partners – Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) – were forced into union to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from assuming power after the 2018 Assembly polls. After the pounding the two took in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, their lame duck government is a dead duck. The BJP is trying to perform the final death rituals – just to make sure. Everyone can see this. Everyone other than the Congress and the JD (S), that is.

As a result, a series of bizarre politico-legal moves have unfolded over the past two weeks leaving many common people wondering what exactly is happening in their state. If we ask the ruling parties whose interest they think they are serving, they are bound to answer ‘democracy’ without missing a beat. Cries about the ‘murder of democracy’ have resounded in Karnataka Legislative Assembly and even in Parliament. The very word is somehow supposed make the most shambolic of arrangements (Congress and JD(S) fought the polls as rivals and continued to behave as such after entering government) seem justified and its end appear like grave injustice.

It may be asking too much of the coalition MLAs to consider what it means for them to invoke the word when governance been completely forgotten for well over two weeks – if not since they assumed power over a year ago – as ministers put their feet up at luxury resorts.

The word democracy comes from the Greek demos (people/commoners/ mob) and kratos (to rule) and referred originally to the system of government that people of ancient Athens chose as a means to arrive at collective decisions about issues that would affect them. In the modern context, it is often used to refer to a system that involves the people’s ability to choose their own government and, in effect, indirectly exercise control over the decisions made in their name.

But the word itself means different things to different people – as leaders in Karnataka will undoubtedly testify – and the use of it does not automatically guarantee that the government has the people’s best interests in mind. Karnataka is actually a good example of how the word/idea has become a much-abused one in Indian politics. Since 2008, the state has been witness to a series of regimes that were often examples of democracy or its institutions being used to serve the interests of the politicians in question rather than that of the people.

If BS Yeddyurappa was the ‘face of democracy’ in 2008, when the original ‘Operation Kamala’ was conducted to ensure the stability of the BJP government headed by him, then its current face ought to be HD Kumaraswamy. He is chief minister despite being the leader of the party with the least number of MLAs (37, not taking into account resignations) in a House of 224 and was essentially a candidate whom the Congress had no choice but to accept for the sake of keeping Karnataka ‘BJP-mukt’. It’s quite another matter that formation of the government was heralded with cries of the ‘murder of democracy’ by the same BJP that masterminded Operation Kamala.

However, since it’s all being done in the name of democracy, it would be worth asking the coalition partners if they think they will be serving democracy by saving themselves through legal troubleshooting. Haven’t they already lost the moral right to continue in office after the resignations of the past weeks? And even if they succeed, what of the burden of the keeping such an arrangement in place?

What the incumbents are undoubtedly hoping is that the word ‘democracy’ will give them the necessary cover to continue in office or if they were to be ousted, give them an excuse for their behaviour since May 2018. In short, they want to be martyrs in the name of ‘democracy’, not just dead ducks struck down by the political storm of the 2019 general election.

The idea seems somewhat ambitious. It’s unlikely that common folk will buy the explanation that these are democracy’s warriors deserving of their sympathy, if not respect for keeping the torch burning. It’s time our politicians saw that just like the word ‘secularism’ has become hollow after being used in the wider Indian context to justify all manner of political arrangements, ‘democracy’ too has lost much meaning. It would be better if these ruling parties decided to drop the sham and go home. There will be other battles to fight in the name of democracy and at that time nobody will take them seriously unless they accept that for now their time is up.