The recently held byelections in Karnataka generated huge attention due to the circumstances surrounding it. They were necessitated following the resignation of 17 disqualified MLAs, some of whom were enjoying ministerial positions in the previous JD(S)-Congress coalition government.
The actions of these MLAs precipitated to the fall of the government and paved the way for the formation of the incumbent BJP government. Nevertheless, when the byelections were held and results declared, a perception that did rounds suggested that the people taught a lesson to the opposition for entering into an unholy alliance against a party that had emerged the single largest party.
However, on closely examining the candidates in the fray and their constituencies, it is not easy to agree with the aforesaid viewpoint as the sole factor.
It all began when the majority of the disgruntled MLAs submitted their resignations and remained inaccessible to their leaders by logging themselves away in another state. The disgruntled MLAs were insisting that the Assembly Speaker accept their resignations.
The Speaker, on his part, had been raising questions on the nature of resignations and their authenticity. However, the deadlock was broken when the coalition government decided to test its strength on the floor of the House, which it eventually lost by a thin margin.
Interestingly, the status of the MLAs who had resigned was hanging in balance. The Speaker not only disqualified from their membership in the Assembly for defying the whip of their respective parties but also were declared 'ineligible' to contest elections for the remaining term of the existing Assembly.
According to the affected MLAs, the latter part of the pronouncement was violation of the anti-defection law enshrined in the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. When the issue was argued in the Supreme Court, it upheld the position of the MLAs and provided them relief by allowing them to contest the elections to the present Assembly.
The apex court verdict was on expected lines because the Madras High Court had already set a precedent on a similar development that had taken place in the preceding year in that state.
In this background, when the much-hyped byelections were held for 15 seats (elections were not held in the two constituencies due to litigation pending in the High Court), the BJP emerged victorious in 12 constituencies where it had no presence before.
Normally, the results of the byelections at any level - national, state or local - tend to favour the incumbent governments.
Going by this presumption, the results should not have been a surprise. Yet, the political observers were hoping for different outcomes because issues of morality/ethics in public life were assumed to be at stake besides pushing the agenda of dilution of ideology.
With this kind of anticipation, experts were expecting the voters of these constituencies to wield the mettle of righteousness and demolish the ills that had crept into the Indian political setup.
Nevertheless, the margin of victory suggests that barring a couple of candidates, most of them won their seats comfortably. Some analysts and politicians commented that the voters had accepted unethical politics.
Coming to a conclusion or measuring the results with idealistic and wishful thinking would misrepresent the truth on ground. In India, the behaviour of the voters depends on several factors given the unique characteristics of each of the constituencies. These elections, despite the hype created around the 'ethics', were no different.
People had voted keeping their own interest and local issues in mind. It is important to mention that majority of these candidates hold a remarkable sway over the people for not only being accessible to them personally but also for taking care of their needs either directly or through their agents at the grassroot level.
As long as the purpose of the voters is served, they do not mind which party their leader is with. This is what happened in the above context, leaving no room for ‘ethical considerations’.
In this, neither the BJP has a reason to celebrate nor the opposition to lose heart as these constituencies were never the bastions of any of the parties or their ideologies. Instead, the candidates who have been regularly winning from there nurtured them carefully.
If the leaders and sympathisers of the coalition still believe that the voters have sided with the defectors and rewarded them unjustly, it is time for them to introspect their own ethics first. For the greed of power, they overnight decided to form the government with those whom the voters were asked to vote against.
In short, they took their voters for granted. In situations of this kind, the politicians expect the poor voters to rise to the occasion in the name of upholding the tenets of democracy, that too when the stakes are decisive to the political class than to a common voter.
Ideally, the parties should have been setting their own houses in order and adhere to the democratic values in their parties instead of turning them into family fiefdoms.
Finally, what has happened in Karnataka has been happening often elsewhere in the country in recent times. If a party has benefited in one state, it has been at the receiving end in another.
Every time a situation like Goa, Karnataka, Haryana and Maharashtra emerges, experts and stakeholders, discuss the merits and demerits of the anti-defection law, role of the governor and speaker.
Instead, efforts should be made towards addressing the recurring problem once for all by enacting suitable legislation where the scope for ambiguity is non-existent. Only such corrective legislation can be considered ‘just’ wherein the voter does not feel betrayed.
(The writer is a faculty member with Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad)