By Karan Thapar
This weekend I would hate to be Vajubhai Vala, the Governor of Karnataka. Not only did he make a wilful and terrible mistake by swearing-in B S Yeddyurappa as chief minister, when the latter clearly did not have a majority behind him but, additionally, Yeddyurappa could not even face a vote of confidence in the assembly. So hopeless were his chances he instead resigned. That leaves the Karnataka Governor with a lot of egg splattered across his face.
The sad part is this was totally avoidable. First, there are at least six precedents, stretching back to 2001, that explicitly laid down that if the second and third largest party together have a majority their leader has prior claim to the chief ministership over the leader of the single largest party. But the Governor deliberately yet without explanation ignored them.
Second, there are explicit Supreme Court judgements, including one by a five-judge constitution bench from 2006, which make it crystal clear that the person with a majority or most likely to have one is the one the Governor must call and he cannot raise ethical questions about how that majority has been created.
This is what the Supreme Court said in the 2006 Rameshwar Prasad case and it’s not just explicit and unequivocal but the Karnataka Governor had no business to ignore it: “If a political party, with the support of other political parties or other MLAs, stakes claim to form a government and satisfies the Governor about its majority to form a stable government, the Governor cannot refuse formation of government and override the majority claim because of his subjective assessment that the majority was cobbled by illegal and unethical means. No such power has been vested with the Governor. Such a power would be against the democratic principles of majority rule. (The) Governor is not an autocratic political ombudsman. If such a power is vested in the Governor and/or the President, the consequences can be horrendous.”
So, now, there’s a stark but unavoidable questing facing Vajubhai Vala. It’s one most people would dread. Should he resign? That would not only be the honourable thing to do but also the only way of resurrecting the badly damaged image of the institution of Governor in Karnataka. Incidentally, this is damage that he has knowingly and personally inflicted, not just by choosing Yeddyurappa but also by appointing K G Bopaiah as pro-tem Speaker. The truth is he’s left a trail of error and controversy with few parallels.
Even if Vajubhai Vala is brazen enough to ignore the dreadful damage he’s inflicted on himself, surely as a former politician of long-standing he must realise he has a duty to maintain the integrity and image of the Karnataka governorship? That’s the very least he owes the state.
But will Vajubhai Vala resign? I don’t know but, instinctively, I doubt it. A man who has no compunction erring in the gross but utterly avoidable manner in which he did does not seem to be the sort of person who, in defeat and humiliation, remembers the need to save his own face or the stature of the office he holds. Such men cling to what they have got with a tenacity that is both frightening and distressing.
Of course, I hope I’m wrong. If it turns out I am, I will gladly apologise to Vajubhai Vala for doubting him. But, first, he has to prove I am. Somehow I don’t think he will.