Today is indeed a sad day for any Keralite who has any positive feelings towards democracy. Democracy is a delicate political system. Unlike other political systems that depend on the supremacy of a group or individual, the democracy depends purely on the respect for the rules of the game. If any side decides to refuse to respect those rule by which democracy functions, either that group has to be contained, or the democracy meets with an untimely death.
Let us say, a political party that lost the elections refuses the elected members to meet and legislate or conduct other business of governance. What will happen to the governance? Will democracy survive without governance, for long? In democracy, it is not expected everyone to trust or support everyone else. The opposition is bound to distrust and attack the ruling party and its ministers. However, the system requires that the opposition should allow the ruling side to govern.
Having said that, let us now consider what happened today, in Kerala assembly. There were certain allegations of bribery against the finance minister of Kerala, Sri KM Mani. The allegations were raised by certain bar owners who had an axe to grind against the government, in connection with the cancellation of bar licenses in the state. No direct evidences are placed in the public domain to the fact that Mani had indeed collected bribes from the bar owners. What have been presented as proof is the talks, telephonic and otherwise, among the leaders of bar owners and others. Be that as it may, the matter is under investigation and the High Court itself has examined the matter, stating that it will intervene in the investigations, if and when the need arises.
The opposition took a stand that since the Finance Minister is tainted and alleged to have compromised the sanctity of budget making, he will not be allowed to present the budget. A legitimate demand, I must say, for an opposition to make. However, how should the ruling side have responded to this demand? Should they concede and ask someone else to present the budget, even as the FM is watching? Can that even be legally possible, considering the fact that FM is not supposed to disclose the budget, even to his colleagues? Should they ask the FM to resign? If the Chief Minister expresses a trust deficit in his FM by asking someone else to present the budget, can he allow that FM to continue? It is virtually impossible to do so.
Next option is for the Chief Minister to ask the FM to tender resignation from the council of Ministers. But again, how can he do that? There are allegations against many ministers including the Chief Minister. As per the law, allegations alone does not disqualify anyone from acting as a Minister. We should remember, we have people accused of rape, riots, and murder serving as ministers even in the union council of ministers. Can the FM be singled out and asked to resign, based on mere allegations from interested parties? If the Chief Minister demands resignation from his minister wouldn’t that amount to accepting the veracity of the allegations? Please note, the Chief Minister is on record that the allegations are unfounded.
A Minister can continue in power so long as the Chief Minister has confidence in him. A Government and Chief Minister can continue so long as they enjoy the confidence of the majority of MLAs in the assembly. It is very clear in the present case that Kerala government enjoys the confidence of the majority of MLAs, and Mr. Mani enjoys the confidence of the Chief Minister. In such a case, so long as Mani says he is innocent and not willing to resign, nobody can force him to resign at least until and unless a court decides to charge him for a criminal act.
The opposition’s choices are limited. They can either bring a no-confidence motion against the government, or purse the allegations in an appropriate legal process. It is not a principle of democratic functioning that a minister should enjoy the confidence of the opposition to be able to continue or function as the minister. If that was indeed the case, no minister or ministry will ever be able to function. Therefore, it was not democratic for Kerala’s opposition parties to declare that they will not allow Mr. Mani to present the budget. They can demand so, for sure, but they cannot enforce such a demand. After all, in a democracy the opposition should have its say and the government, its way. Otherwise, no government will ever be able to function.
Raising an impossible demand is a sure way to ensure failure of a struggle. There was no way for the government (for reasons discussed above) to have acceded to the demand of the opposition. That forced the opposition to resort to undemocratic means to achieve their unreasonable demand. The result was unprecedented violence and shame in the Assembly of Kerala. In any legislative body, the chair of Speaker is deemed to represent the dignity and authority of the house. The opposition in Kerala, in order to prevent Mani from making the budget speech brazenly attacked the Speaker’s chair. The Speaker was prevented from entering the Assembly, his chair for removed and thrown, all his equipment and computer broken, in a display of utmost contempt for legislative assembly, the Speaker, and democracy!
The situation forced the Speaker and the Government to adopt shortcuts in presenting the budget, by adopting undesirable tactics. Of course, one can blame the government for adopting those tactics like FM reading out a few words from a newly allotted seats in the second raw and then placing the budget on the table of the house and the Speaker giving permission to the FM through symbolic gestures. However, a government is left with no other choice but to adopt such measures under the situation as it can neither agree to the demands of opposition nor avoid presentation of the budget.
The opposition did not even stop there. The lady MLAs from opposition ranks were seen physically pushing ruling party MLAs in their attempts to reach the FM to stop him from presenting his record 13th budget, in this 13th Assembly of Kerala, on this Friday, the 13th (I am glad that FM did not believe in the bad luck associated with 13th). In one case, a lady MLA was seen biting a ruling party MLA for blocking her from proceeding towards the Chief Minister’s seat!
I must also state that the behavior of many ruling party MLAs was also not contributing to the dignity of the house. Taunting the rampaging opposition MLAs or celebrating their symbolic success was not in the good taste.
The budget will eventually get passed, with or without a proper debate. The dignity of the House and democracy has suffered. Mani may or may not be guilty of the alleged acts, as the courts will eventually decide. But to try and countermand the popular mandate given to a government, for a period of five years, through violence and physical intimidation will only destroy the delicate democracy. It will not be in anybody’s interest including the opposition parties indulging in such acts.
I sincerely hope the better sense will prevail among all, and the Kerala assembly will regain its decorum at the earliest.