Come Sunday, and citizens across Karnataka are expected to take a traditional 'oil bath' at the crack of dawn and squat in front of their television sets to witness what is being touted as the climax of what has been a very debased chapter in Karnataka politics. For, their Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has planned for them what he calls a “Truth Test”.*(update)
So, on June 27, two 'Wizards of Oath', Yeddyurappa and Janata Dal (Secular) chief H.D. Kumaraswamy, will depose before the highest Court in Karnataka: yes, the popular deity Manjunatha. Justice Manjunatha we are told resides in the wealthy and powerful sanctum of the Dharmasthala temple in South Karnataka.
In an exclusive interview to Pragoti, the temple priest – a man who claims to have umpired several such tests – said that on Sunday morning the two top politicians will come with their speeches prepared and read it out before the deity. It is expected that the second a lie is uttered, the Third Eye of the lord will open and a bolt of lightning will strike at the person uttering the fallacy. The bigger the lie, the deadlier it will be.
Sounds ridiculous? It is.
For those of you have been fortunate enough to miss this murky, ridiculous and completely irrational turn in Karnataka's politics – with no less than the honourable CM in the driver's seat – here's a quip recap.
Last week, arguably Karnataka's most tainted CM Yeddyurappa released a yellow-coloured, quarter-page advertisement in all newspapers. All newspapers (barring some that reportedly rejected the advertisement) carried the advertisement prominently. Bearing the official emblem of the Karnataka State Government, and released through the State Information Bureau, the advertisement was a letter he penned from an Ayurveda retreat/camp in Kerala. Reacting to arch rival, and perhaps his only real opposition in the State [barring all the opposition he faces from within his party, of course], HD Kumarasawamy's allegations that Yeddyurappa had tried to “buy his silence”, the CM invoked the gods. He invited (through the letter—advertisement) Kumaraswamy to come and repeat his allegations in front of Manjunatha, the Dharmasthala deity. The old superstition goes that those who lie before this particular god is cursed by the temple deity, and Yeddyurappa's invitation draws from this irrational superstitious notion.
Firstly, the CM has conveniently dipped into the public exchequer to fund an entire advertisement campaign based on what can at best be described as a personal tiff between two political rivals. Unofficial sources estimate the expenditure at Rs. 70 lakh. Given that the advertisement was placed on the national pages in some leading dailies, this is indeed a modest estimate. Though questioned by the local media on this transgression, the CM remains unapologetic. His aides resort to the lopsided logic that Kumaraswamy's allegations were an insult to the government as a whole, hence the expenditure is justified. How very convenient!
Secondly, the entire proposal, including Kumaraswamy's decision to pick up the gauntlet and partake in this odd form of dispute resolution, is an insult to the collective intelligence of the people of the State. It is also anti-secular, undemocratic and unconstitutional. Commentators have pointed out that besides being a complete affront to democracy, the CM's invitation violates the very oath that he took when sworn in (to uphold the values enshrined in the constitution). Unconstitutional on several grounds, and an insult to the judiciary (for in the letter in Kannada he also laments that “Courts take too long”), the CM has by-passed the simple legal recourse of suing Kumaraswamy for defamation, and instead opted to make a mockery of the constitutional post he holds.
So why did Yeddyurappa put up this grand show of challenging his rival for a Temple Test, instead of taking legal recourse? In his defence, perhaps Yeddyurappa knew that his case would not hold water in a Court of law, because Kumaraswamy appears to have all the evidence he needs to substantiate his claims. He has repeated his offer to provide all call records of his conversation with MLC Lehar Singh (Yeddyurappa's close aide, wheeler-dealer and powerful real estate man) who allegedly made the call to broker the “peace deal” with JD(S). Singh has confirmed that he did make the call but insists it was a courtesy call.
Even a casual observer of Karnataka politics will reckon that Yeddyurappa must've tried to buy Kumaraswamy's silence. For, over the past two months, the latter has released a flurry of documents on various corruption rackets involving Yeddyurappa and various members of the ruling BJP. The most recent one comes as recently as a few days ago when he travelled to Delhi to present documents on how Yeddyurappa helped his family members acquire a cement company in Belgaum district and gave them “preferential” allocation of lease for limestone mining to the extent of 1,417.5 acres.
Yeddyurappa has not been very forthcoming in brushing off these allegations, and has repeatedly sought Court stays on all investigations against him.
It is also fairly well-known that several prominent leaders of the Karnataka Congress have been “bought over”, visible in the weak role that they have played as an opposition party in recent years. In the past year-and-a-half, the JD(S), though not the majority party in opposition, has taken on the role of the opposition and challenged the misrule in the State. A popular joke here is that the only deserving candidate for the title of 'leader of the opposition' among Congressmen today is the Governor of the State H.R. Bharadwaj, a man well-known for his gubernatorial transgressions every now and then.
Sadly, nothing that the BJP does in this State shocks anybody anymore. Be it the joke of a confidence motion by 'voice vote' on the floor of the house, where policemen reportedly blocked opposition men from walking in and then the speaker made up his own rules on defection (only to be severely pulled up by the Supreme Court) or the day-to-day scandals and corruption allegations that ministers have mastered the art of brushing aside, Karnataka politics is believed to be at its lowest ebb today.
So the constitutional head of the State wants to have a swearing ceremony at a popular temple? Why not? After all, as the huge inscription on the legislative building, the Vidhana Soudha, reads: “Government work is God's work”. Innit?
** UPDATE: Since this blog post was written, the CM appears to have given up the idea of this Truth Test. Sources say that there are two reasons for this decision; while a large section of his party was worried this may appear foolish, irrational and undemocratic, a larger section is worried that going ahead with such a test would be “dangerous”, for they believe that if their CM testified then the wrath (or curse) of the deity may not only consume Yeddyurappa but also his highly volatile government.