It isn’t just the dress-code which has got Karnataka politicians angry. The elite clubs in Bengaluru have always been careful and choosy about letting politicians into their clubs. And now, politicians are hitting back with legislation to control these clubs, and there nothing better than the rhetoric which is a heady mix of Kannada ‘culture’, Constitution of India and ‘contribution to society’.
A House Committee which was formed by the Karnataka legislature assembly to look into the administration of recreational clubs has drafted a legislation to regulate existing clubs in Bengaluru. The bill seeks to control entry-restrictions, membership fees and allotment of memberships. Club administrators and office bearers are clearly unhappy with this.
The House Committee, headed by Congress MLA A Manju, has come up with a draft of the Karnataka Entry into Public Places (Removal of Restriction on Dress and Regulation of membership and Fee) Act, 2015. The legislation, once passed, is to be enforced immediately.
There are three main aspects of the Bill which are seen as controversial.
One, removal of entry-restrictions: Under the Act, no person wearing a veshti (dhoti) reflecting Kannada culture or any other lndian traditional dress shall be denied entry into any public place, by reason only of this dress provided that the dress shall be worn in a decent manner.
Two, the clubs will have to seek approval of the government for prescribing the membership fee. As of now, various clubs have membership fees that could be set anywhere between Rs. 2500 to Rs. 20 lakh.
And three, membership shall not be denied to privileged or renowned persons and ex-servicemen, which includes MPs, MLAs, MLCs, person with meritorious contribution to sports, ex-servicemen and renowned person who have strived for a cause of the society, the state or the nation.
The Bill also says that any violation of the act will attract a fine of Rs. 25,000 and imprisonment of up to 1 year. The law will also allow the government cancel the license of a club for violations.
The issue has its roots in the Yeddyurappa regime in 2012, when A Manju raised this issue on the floor of the assembly. The present Chief Minister had then joined Manju in criticising the clubs, calling the practice of enforcing a dress-code “shameful”. A House Committee was sought to be formed then.
Recently, the Karnataka government had directed the elite Bangalore Club to handover 13-acres of its land to government claiming that the land belonged to the State. The move was seen as a tactic by politicians to usurp the club by existing members of the club. The Club however went to court against the order of the government.
A Manju, Chairman of the House Committee insists the draft bill is not meant to arm twist clubs to give membership to politicians.
“The clubs give membership to IAS officers, are they VIPs? Why should politician be denied membership? We are also humans, right?” she asks, speaking to The News Minute.
Most clubs in Bengaluru have long waiting lists for memberships and some clubs have a waiting list of between 10-20 years. Recently, when the Tamil Nadu government passed a law lifting dress codes in clubs, the question of whether this amounts to infringement of the rights of a private entity was raised.
“Clubs are registered under the Karnataka Societies Act and many of them have leased out land from the government, so as far as we are concerned, they are public places and cannot claim to be private entities,” says Manju.
When club members are not objecting to dress codes, should the government get into it? “Why should we not? If Mahatma Gandhi was alive today, will these clubs let him in? Let’s not go that far. Can Karnataka’s own leader Deve Gowda be allowed inside clubs? He won’t as he always wears a dhoti,” says Manju, and asks, “Are the clubs superior to the Constitution of India?”
But existing members of the club say that politicians are using the powers of the state for their personal gains. “Giving membership to MLAs or MPs is not the issue. Like all others, will they join the waiting list or will they want VIP treatment and their forms processed immediately?” a committee member in one of the leading clubs in the city asks while speaking to The News Minute on conditions of anonymity.