How Karnataka's Upper House has been diluted for politicians who can't win elections

Over the years, governments of the day have diluted provisions to nominate active politicians who have been close to the ruling party.
How Karnataka's Upper House has been diluted for politicians who can't win elections
How Karnataka's Upper House has been diluted for politicians who can't win elections
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Even as lobbying for the five seats in the Karnataka Legislative Council under the nominations category is on, debate has commenced in BJP circles over politicians likely to once again bag the quota, usually set aside for those representing distinguished fields.

Though all political parties, over the years, have used the five slots in the Upper House (Council) to give to active politicians under the ‘social service’ tag, the decision of the BJP’s central leadership to nominate ‘samanya karyakartas’, Ashok Gasti and Earanna Kadadi, to the Rajya Sabha last week has raised hopes of the selection being in accordance with the definition of the category, rather than becoming a ‘rehabilitation route’ for electorally unsuccessful politicians.

There are guidelines on who should get nominated to the Upper Houses under Article 171 of the Constitution, which says: “The members to be nominated by the Governor shall consist of persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as the following, namely; literature, science, art, cooperative movement, and social service.” 

However, over the years, governments of the day have diluted this provision to nominate active politicians who have been close to the ruling party. This has resulted in one or two nominations  being rejected by the Governor. 

Nominations rejected by Guv

In May 2017, Governor Vajubhai R Vala had rejected the nomination of former Congress MLA CM Lingappa to the Council on the grounds that he was not eligible to be selected under the education or social service categories. The Siddaramaiah government convinced the Governor to accept the nomination later. 

But, on a few occasions, the ruling party has had to withdraw the nominations they had made to the Council. In 2010, the nomination of current state Housing Minister V Somanna under the ‘social service’ category was turned down by then Governor HR Bhardwaj on the grounds that he had defected from the Congress to the BJP, became a Minister and lost the bye-poll from the Vijayanagar Assembly constituency. 

“Defection is a political nuisance,” Bhardwaj had observed while rejecting the nomination. Somanna got elected to the Council from the Legislative Assembly a few months later.

Similarly, in 2004, then Governor TN Chaturvedi had sent back the nomination file of current JD(S) MLA Bandeppa Kashampur, who had been proposed to the Council by the SM Krishna  government on the grounds that the nominee was an active politician and an excise contractor.

Presently, the names of former legislators H Vishwanath, CP Yogeeshwar and Nirmal Kumar Surana along with personalities from the Sandalwood industry including Jaggesh, Tara Anuradha, Shruti and Malavika Avinash, are doing the rounds. 

There is opposition to Vishwanath in BJP circles as he was unsuccessful in the Assembly bye-polls held in December when the Supreme Court had upheld the disqualification of 17 MLAs but had allowed them to contest. 

“He still holds the disqualification tag and has not come out of it. His nomination can be questioned in court. (Chief Minister) Yediyurappa has been consulting legal experts on this,” BJP sources said.

According to a Congress functionary, ruling parties — over the years — have been misusing the ‘social service’ tag to get active politicians into the Council under the nominations category.

“The Council cannot be a rehabilitation centre for unsuccessful politicians. They have options to get into the parliament or the Legislature by contesting the Lok Sabha or Assembly polls, or from the graduates, teachers or local bodies’ constituencies to the Council. Why should they encroach upon the five-seat quota?” he asked.

Former Congress MP VS Ugrappa was of the view that there cannot be a ban on politicians entering the Council under the nominations category. 

Do you mean that active politicians are not qualified to render social service or be educationists? On the contrary, many celebrities, who were nominated to the Rajya Sabha, completed their six-year term without uttering a single word in the House,” he maintained.

Sharing the view, BJP spokesperson Vaman Acharya said: “A person cannot be denied the nomination just because he is a politician as he can be doing something beyond his political activity, such as being engaged in writing books.”

Another senior BJP leader admitted, “I have been actively working for the party, but not in a position to win direct elections. Getting nominated is the only route for me.'”

The Yediyurappa government has to nominate five persons to the Council which falls vacant on June 26. Since there is no time limit, the government can do it immediately or keep it pending since the six-year tenure of the nominated members commences from the day they are nominated. 

According to sources, the Chief Minister will go ahead once he gets the names from the BJP’s central leadership. Two of his nominees are likely to get in, while the remaining three will be the high command's choice. 

Nominations of distinguished personalities

1988 and 1995 were two watershed years when, of the five nominated seats, three went to those who had excelled in various fields. 

In 1988, noted Kannada actor Ananth Nag, Dalit activist, Kannada poet and playwright Siddalingaiah and labour union leader Michael B Fernandes were nominated to the Upper House.

In 1995, Siddalingaiah was renominated beside founder of Janapada Loka, Kannada folklorist HL Nage Gowda and litterateur Mahadev Banakar. 

Other noted personalities who made it to the Upper House were noted educationists MPL Sastry (1968), H Narasimhaiah (1980), social activist, Hindustani classical singers Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur (1984) and Gangubhai Hanagal (1990), noted opthamologist MC Modi (1990), Jnanpith awardee, writer Chandrashekar B Kambar (2004) and educationist MR Doreswamy (2008).

Nominees to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka were scientist Raja Ramanna (1997) and theatre actor, singer B Jayashree (2010). 

Sandalwood nominees: Aarathi (1984), Hindustani vocalist Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, Ananth Nag (1988), Umashree (2001 and 2007), Srinath (2006) and Jaggesh (2010).

Naheed Ataulla is a journalist who has covered Karnataka politics for over two decades, and is a former Political Editor of The Times of India. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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