Going by the conduct of the Karnataka Governor Mr HR Bharadwaj over the last one year, there should be no doubt that the present occupant has turned the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore into a den of intrigue and mischief and has become the biggest destabilizer of the Constitution and the democratic process in the state. 

The governor’s intimidatory tactics, more akin to rude cross-examination techniques employed by rookie lawyers in Tees Hazari Courts where Mr Bharadwaj began his legal and political journey, and his frequent somersaults when such tactics fail, have only brought infamy to the office he holds.

If one considers the number of times he has been made to eat crow, he is certainly the ‘Somersault Man’ among governors in the country. Just look at his track record: Last October, when 11 BharatiyaJanata Party MLAs revolted against the chief minister and announced withdrawal of support to the government, no one could fault him for his first response when he asked the chief minister to prove his majority in the state assembly. However, he had no authority to issue orders to the assembly speaker on how he should function and on how he should treat the MLAs vis-à-vis the complaint made against them by the BJP Legislative Party. Apart from this constitutional impropriety, he described the vote on the motion of confidence as a “farce” and recommended imposition of President’s Rule in the state.

Even at that stage, it was known that the Speaker’s decision to expel the 16 MLAs would get embroiled in a major legal battle, first at the High Court stage and later in the Supreme Court. Though the Speaker’s orders were upheld by the High Court, it was also well known that the fate of these 16 MLAs would eventually be decided by the apex court. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court indicting the Karnataka Assembly Speaker for expelling the 11 BJP MLAs and five Independent MLAs shows the Speaker erred in not following due process while disqualifying the BJP MLAs. As regards the five independents, the apex court has held that their withdrawal of support to the government did not amount to defection. Both these judgements will have long term implications in so far as the implementation of the anti-defection law is concerned, but neither of them gives the governors any power to destabilize constitutionally elected governments.
Last October, when the Governor took the foolhardy step of recommending President’s Rule in the state on the ground that the Yeddyurappa Government had lost majority support, persons with even a nodding acquaintance of constitutional law wondered how the Union Government could take charge of state when the apex court has clearly declared that governors are not to resort to arbitrary head counts. If, as Mr Bharadwaj claimed, the head count was vitiated, he should have awaited the opinion of the courts in the matter rather than take the law in his own hands. The first and basic principle laid down by the Supreme Court in the Bommai Case is that the issue of majority or minority is not to be determined by governors. This is a matter to be settled entirely within the four walls of the legislature. Fortunately, those who man the Union Government have a better sense of the law in the post-Bommai phase than most governors. That is why the union government rejected Bharadwaj’s advice and forced him to eat his words. Rapped on the knuckles, Mr Bharadwaj did a neat volte face, pretended as if all was well and directed   Yeddyurappato face a trust vote on October 14. The chief minister acted on this advice and won the trust motion. 

But the respite lasted just three months. In early 2011, the governor was back to his ways. This time, some allegations of nepotism made against the chief minister became the excuse for Mr Bharadwaj to once again dabble in active politics and to step up the campaign against the chief minister and government. The governor’s conduct at that time smacked of collusion with opposition leaders in the state assembly, yet again emphasized the partisan role played by him and led to fresh protests against him. 

Since Mr Bharadwaj had objected to the expulsions last October, the two recent judgements of the Supreme Court vis-à-vis the 26 MLAs has certainly come as a morale booster for him in so far as it vindicated his stand that the vote on the motion of confidence passed last October stood vitiated in the light of the hurried expulsion of  the legislators. But as is his wont, Mr Bharadwaj has grossly misread the judgement and ventured into unconstitutional terrain by once again recommending the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.    

And, as in the past, the union government has found no merit in his advice because it knows that such a course is constitutionally untenable. The government is aware that it would not be able to defend its actions in the Supreme Court. One of the reasons for this is that the court has held in the Bommai Case that it reserves the right to see the material sent by the governor to the president in support of the proposal for bringing the state under central rule. That being the case, the court would certainly summon the records and in that situation the union government is obviously unsure of the material at hand to defend its action. Therefore, yet again the government is compelled to nudge Mr Bharadwaj to back track and honourably make peace with the chief minister.

Mr Bharadwaj has complied with this advice post haste and without batting an eyelid, he has done a neat about turn. However laughable it may seem, the very governor who recommended imposition of President’s Rule in the state on Tuesday, publicly declares on Thursday that Mr.Yeddrurappa enjoys a “massive majority” in the state assembly and that the chief minister is his “friend”!

Forget about constitutional instability, the conduct of the Karnataka governor clearly points to instability of the mind in respect of the present incumbent.
The Sarkaria Commission, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution and even the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, appointed by the UPA government were unanimously of the view that only persons of eminence and persons detached from politics should be appointed as governors. All these commissions have approvingly quoted the criteria laid down by Justice Sarkaria which said a governor must fulfill the following criteria: He should be eminent in some walk of life; He should be a person from outside the State; He should be a detached figure and not too intimately connected with the local politics of the State; and He should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past. Looking at the conduct of Mr.H.R.Bharadwaj,  one wonders whether he has any of these qualifications other than the one that says the governor must be from outside-- the state. Karnataka deserves better.

The union government is playing with fire by continuing Mr Bharadwaj as the Governor of the state. The people of this state are probably the most democratic and peace loving people in the country. The Centre will be making a gross miscalculation if it considers the goodness of Kannadigas as a weakness and persists with Mr Bharadwaj who is wrecking the Constitution and the democratic process from within Raj Bhavan. In the post-independence era, I do not think there has been a fitter case for removal of a Governor.  If the Centre fails to act, it will expose itself to the charge of weakening the Constitutional edifice. As regards the Congress Party, it will pay the price politically for allowing a partisan partyman like Mr Bharadwaj to harass a duly elected Chief Minister.