Rubber stamp? How Karnataka politics has put governor’s role under scanner, once again

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Bengaluru, May 17: The post of governor in India has always been a controversial one, thanks to how the appointment of the constitutional head is guided by political expediency of the ruling party at the Centre since ages.

Mostly seen as a post-retirement gift to veteran politicians, army officials and diplomats loyal to the ruling party at the Centre, the independence and integrity of the office of the governor has been questioned on several occasions in the past. Term like "rubber stamp" (a person who gives approval to any decision of the ruling party without any due consideration as demanded from a constitutional head) has been used to target the governor if he/she is seen "erring" by the Opposition.

BSY and Vala

Amid hectic political developments in Karnataka in the aftermath of the Assembly election results, all eyes were focused on Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala in the last few days. While both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) alliance staked their claim to form the next government in the state after election results gave a fractured mandate, Vala, a well-known BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi loyalist, decided to call BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP's chief ministerial candidate, to be sworn in as the new head of Karnataka.

While the BJP has 104 MLAs in its kitty, the Congress-JD(S) combine on Wednesday submitted a letter with the signatures of 117 MLAs to the governor. In spite of having a clear majority, the governor gave "preference" to the BJP's claim as Yeddyurappa on early Thursday morning took the oath as the new CM of Karnataka.

In a dramatic turn of events, the Congress-JD(S) alliance approached the Supreme Court on Wednesday midnight to stall the swearing-in ceremony of Yeddyurappa, but the apex court decided not to interfere with the governor's decision.

The governor's decision to call the BJP, the single-largest party in the current Karnataka Assembly, to form the new government is the most "logical" step taken by Vala as the same has been suggested by the Sarkaria Commission in 1998.

However, recent precedents in Goa and Manipur (last year) and Meghalaya (this year) show that it is not always necessary to call the single-largest party to form the government when there is a fractured mandate. In all these three states, the BJP-led alliances formed governments surpassing the Congress with the highest number of seats.

Now, the question is how in Manipur, Goa and Meghalaya, the governors decided to call alliance partners to form governments and not in Karnataka? One more important reason why a lot of legal and constitutional experts are opposing Vala's decision is that by giving preference to the BJP, Vala has opened the floodgates for horse-trading, resort politics and operation kamala or operation lotus (a term coined by the BJP back in 2008 to win over MLAs from the opposition parties) in Karnataka.

The BJP, which is short of at least eight seats, is likely to go to any extent to get the numbers to clear the crucial floor test. The governor has also given the BJP 15 days to prove its majority, which again is quite a long period to be enjoyed by any party to remain in power without the numbers.

Raising doubts over the alleged partial role played by Vala, who was a former speaker of Gujarat, in the entire Karnataka political drama, former Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah called the Karnataka governor a "rubber stamp".

"Once more an occupant of a Raj Bhavan allows himself to be used as a rubber stamp. BJP announces (& then deletes) the details of #Yeddyurappa swearing in slated for tomorrow before it can be officially communicated," tweeted Abdullah.

Abdullah alleged that the BJP "misused the powers of governors" and "blew the constitution to shambles". "Subtext we don't need lessons from anyone else, we can blow the constitution to shambles & misuse the powers of Governors as well as the best in the business," the former J&K CM added.

While there was a festive mood outside the Raj Bhavan in Bengaluru, the official residence of the governor where Vala administered the oath of office to Yeddyurappa on Thursday, a pall of gloom descended on the Indian democracy where the role of the governor has come under scanner, once again.

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