Democracy in the dumps

Democracy in the dumps

Many complained that the Telangana state was voted into existence after a black out in the Parliament Looking back, it is a metaphor for the dark...

Many complained that the Telangana state was voted into existence after a black out in the Parliament. Looking back, it is a metaphor for the dark times Constitutional morality has seen since in the state. In 2014 TRS won 63 seats. But soon after the elections, a steady stream of defections followed from TDP, Congress, CPI and YSRCP. Some 27 MLAs crossed over without any consequences.

One of the early defectors, Talasani Srinivas Yadav who got elected on TDP ticket, jumped ship into TRS soon after the elections and was made a minister. He continued to be listed under TDP. The speaker Madhusudana Chary took no stand on the party affiliation of the MLA. The Governor of the state had no qualms in administering the oath of office to a legislator who would normally have been disqualified under the Anti-defection Law. In the Legislative Council also defections were encouraged.

The chairman of the Council Swamy Goud too did not feel it necessary to take any action. No doubt, the defections were motivated by self-less public service and ideological commitment.
The issue was challenged in courts of law and went up to the Supreme Court. The Court raised the question whether the judiciary could interfere with legislature’s functioning and legislative business and referred it to a five-member Constitution bench. As of July 2018, the bench was still to be constituted.

Understandable, since the courts are busy hearing core issues for our democracy such as the BCCI affairs and whether you and I need to prove our patriotism by standing for the national anthem when we go to see that B-grade movie in a cinema hall.Meanwhile, the tenure of the government is over. The pioneer-legislator successfully completed his tenure as minister. Following the trail-blazing example set by him, close to 27 legislators elected on various party tickets moved over into TRS taking its strength to 90.

Between the speaker of the assembly, the chairman of the council, the governor of the state and the courts, the Anti-defection Law was made a mockery of. Come September 18, 2018, the TRS chief decided to dissolve this assembly where he has beefed-up his party to a brute majority.There was no constitutional crisis, no emergency of any kind for the dissolution of a stable, elected government close to 9 months short of its tenure. The State Election Commission was in the middle of the revision of voter list process, which was to complete by January 2019.

With eight months to spare for the election process, the governor dissolves the assembly, the fiercely autonomous Election Commission suspends revision of the voters list. Declares that existing voters list of 2018 will be used for the polls, as for reasons still to be made public, election HAD to be held in December 2018. The short time given for the process does not leave the other political parties any time to visit all the constituencies for campaigning. On polling day, much to the shock of many voters, some 22 lakh voters go missing from the rolls.

The state chief electoral officer apologises through the media. But then election is declared a successful operation. Time to move on.The TRS party won with a big majority. The defections have begun too. The Supreme Court is still too busy to constitute the 5-member bench. The election that was called in such a hurry and with the active cooperation of all the institutions concerned, TRS comes into power. But armed with the power of brute majority and the institutional impunity, the party was not in a hurry to form a cabinet.

From September 2018 to February 2019, there was no government to speak of with several routine functions of the state stalled. Only the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister were sworn-in after the elections. Two months after the formation of the government when the cabinet was not expanded, PhD students of Osmania University, Balakrishna and Shankar, filed a petition in the High Court citing Article 164(1)A) of the Constitution, which mandates that a state assembly must have a cabinet of minimum 12 members to facilitate governance.

The failure of the TRS government to expand the Cabinet was to come up for hearing on 19 February, on the very day the Chief Minister decided to expand it by inducting 10 more ministers.
As in the case of the earlier stint, in this round too no women have been brought into the cabinet, even as the TRS is a noisy advocate of 33 per cent reservation for women in the legislatures. Considering the history of the party that directly challenges constitutional values, the lack of representation of women only goes to underline the political hubris with which parties that have perfected the art of winning elections operate with.

Heading for the Lok Sabha elections, as citizens, we need to ask the governor of the state, the courts and the election commission, who and what are these elections meant to serve? The system runs on the tax-payers’ money. From the labourer who buys a packet of biscuits to the employee who buys petrol, our tax rupees are keeping the “authorities” in sufficiently good spirits. What is the accountability of these institutions to the citizens?

Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry evocatively titled one of his stories, “Samadhi Kaduthunnam, Chandaliyyandi.” Democratic institutions are being interred with “state honours” from taxes collected out of the hard-earned money of the citizens.

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