The handling of the confidence vote proceedings in the Karnataka Assembly by Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar has sparked a furore.
Depending on where one’s sympathies lie, it can be seen either as the actions of a fastidious man or a total sham. But for a neutral observer, it would appear that his conduct was immaculate in its propriety, especially in a political environment that can, at best, be described as squalid.
The marathon debate on the confidence motion moved by the chief minister, HD Kumaraswamy, lacked any substance, thanks to the cynical “silence” adopted as a strategy by the BJP, in the face of provocation by the treasury benches.
Notwithstanding the BJP’s subversion of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution by inducing, through unsavoury means, the resignations of the “rebels”; the debate was marked by a certain amount of civility, which is quite foreign to our legislatures.
Interventions were made, and members yielded to other members, even from the opposite sides of the divide. The BJP chose to conduct itself in exemplary fashion to ensure that none of its members were suspended or ejected from the house for unruly behaviour.
The otherwise ill-tempered BS Yeddyurappa, the leader of the opposition, led by example.
The performance of the ruling alliance MLAs reflected the bankruptcy on that side of the divide too. The best interventions came from Krishna Byre Gowda; H K Patil and RV Deshpande.
The Congress and the JD(S) squandered a great opportunity to highlight the blatant anti-democratic machinations of the “party with a difference”.
This lack of eminence on either side was recognised and highlighted by the Speaker.
His repeated reference to people like Devaraj Urs, Gopala Gowda and Madhu Dandavate served to highlight the mediocrity of the speeches. At one stage, Ramesh Kumar admonished MLAs on their lack of preparedness, and their total ignorance of the legislative history of not just the country but even that of their own state.
Devaraj Urs, the charismatic Chief Minister of Karnataka from 1972 to 1980, was the name mentioned in the numerous interventions by Ramesh Kumar over the three days of the debate. Rightfully so. Devaraj Urs came from a minor caste of the Urs community of the old Mysore state. Urs’ reign saw widespread land reforms, rivalling that carried out by the Left in Kerala and West Bengal. The late CPI leader BV Kakkilaya played a major role in the formulation of the land reforms legislation, testimony to the non-partisan approach of Urs. As chief minister, he took the lead in launching various social sector schemes, that set Karnataka on the path of development.
Ramesh Kumar spoke about some of the leaders whose sons now are members of the Assembly. In the closing minutes, he narrated to the soon-to-be ousted Chief Minister how his father, former prime minister Deve Gowda had called him up [Ramesh Kumar] and asked him to become the Speaker when he was just 44 years old and a third-term MLA; he became the youngest speaker in the country.
Many on social media, especially those critical of the Deve Gowda clan, focusing on “dynastic politics” and not enough on the open subversion of democracy through horse-trading, seem to think Ramesh Kumar’s pontification as vain and unreal.
At a time when memory is short or unreliable, Ramesh Kumar may sound like that. The previous Yeddyurappa government’s demise thanks to the infighting in the BJP, the corruption against the Bellary brothers and the like, is something they can live with, but not the “honesty” of a disillusioned politician with a clean record.
In a country, where politicians as a class have failed it is heart-warming that there are still people like K R Ramesh Kumar around; we need more of them.