MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: With the imposition of President’s Rule in the States becoming more of a rule rather than an exception, the time has come to ponder the possibility of a system that ensures people’s say in the decisions taken during the regime.
President’s Rule, by any stretch of imagination, is a substitute for rule by the people’s representatives. It is essentially, a stop-gap arrangement arising out of some aberration, till normality is restored. But if it tends to continue for an extended period of time, as is now likely the case in Karnataka, comes the rub.
The people would lose their right to be heard by the powers-that-be and are even denied the simple opportunity of pouring out their woes before their representatives, and remonstrate if need be for any case of inaction. Certainly, the people in general cannot be penalised for the waywardness of and the political avarice of their elected representatives, because of their fault in trusting them to run the show.
President’s Rule under the prevailing circumstances is essentially, rule by bureaucracy, of bureaucracy and for bureaucracy—and the people figure nowhere in the picture in the absence of any institutional arrangement providing for the same.
One Governor and couple of advisors sitting in Bangalore cannot be accessible to the people at large on the whole. And experience shows that problems facing the people at the grassroots level hardly reaches the top in the such a hierarchical system of government.
It is against this backdrop that the suggestion made by the Chairman of the Karnataka Legislative Council, Prof. B K Chandrasekhar, to restore the powers and privileges of the upper chamber of the legislature deserves consideration. The Council comprising of indirectly elected members can hold the fort till the regular assembly resumes its functioning.
Other alternatives could also be thought of, like involving the MPs from the State in the matter of governance.
Or the Karnataka Panchayat Council, a forum comprising of the nominees of the panchayat raj institution, could be activated, as provided for the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act, to serve as a clearing house on matters pertaining to rural development, if need be. But there has been little or no thought in this direction so far.
What is currently happening in Karnataka should be an eyeopener to every body. Two spells of President’s Rule in just two months.
In the first instance, the bureaucrats had started calling the shots much earlier due to the political flux arising out of the dilemma on the part of the H.D. Kumaraswamy government in handing over (or not handing over) power to B.S. Yediyurappa of the BJP.
With those in government busy in politicking, it was the bureaucracy which virtually ran the government then. The imposition of President’s Rule merely turned a de facto situation into a de jure situation. And the Seven Day Wonder that was Yediyurappa’s government hardly made any difference.
It did not take time for the impact of the change of government to percolate down the line. Those who immediately felt the pinch were those who had been affected and dislocated by the widespread rains and floods in the Northern Karnataka districts. They were eagerly waiting for the promise of assistance made by Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa to materialise to get some relief. But they were shocked to find the official machinery turning its face the other way, the moment Kumaraswamy went out of office.
The temporary arrangements made for providing shelter, food and other basic amenities got botched up too. And the promise of compensation for the loss of houses, cattle and crop, got sucked in the bureaucratic juggernaut to become a mirage of sort. The official machinery feigned ignorance about the suffering of the people and trotted out the usual explanation of absence of proper instructions from the top as a veneer of their inaction.
Result: while the entire State was gleefully celebrating the festival of lights, these unfortunate people had to go hungry in the absence of food grains’ supply and had to spend their time huddled in temporary shelters in the dark, for want of kerosene, and put up with other inconveniences like the absence of drinking water.
The fact of the matter was that their plight hardly attracted any attention of the people’s representatives, who were otherwise busy or had no time for listen to the tale of woe. The plight of the people hardly provided any meat for the media which was more obsessed with political news than the human suffering.
In another case, the workers of a cooperative sugar factory in Haveri who had not been paid wages had launched an indefinite hunger for days demanding the same. But it hardly evoked any response from the powers. The Governor’s regime woke up only when one of workers committed suicide and fellow workers took the dead body to the office of the deputy commissioner to lodge their protest. The reports are that several other cooperative sugar factories are facing similar problems, which are yet to be heard by the powers-that-be.
At the macro level, too, President’s Rule comes with its own set of limitations.
The proposal of the Cabinet acceding to the request of the Lok Aayukta for suo motu powers to deal with incidence of corruption in the government is pending with the office of the Governor. It was there when the Kumaraswamy government was in power and continues to be so, without any action being taken.
Knowing the zealousness with which the higher echelons of the bureaucracy had resisted the proposal, it is doubtful whether something will happen in a Governor’s regime dominated by bureaucrats.
“We, the People”, it seems, have no option but to grin and bear it.