6 reasons why ‘UP model’ is unlikely to work in Karnataka

For political, economic and legal reasons, Basavaraj Bommai can never become ‘Bulldozer Baba’

CM Bommai
"I will talk to him. The context was different, so there is no need to take it in the wrong sense," says CM Bommai

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, keen to pacify BJP workers agitated over the killing of  young leader Praveen Nettaru in Dakshina Kannada district, issued a stern statement, saying he may have to import the ‘UP model’ into his state. Repeated incidents of violence in Karnataka, coinciding with the first anniversary of Bommai in the CM seat, probably drove him to make the statement.

The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government recently went on a bulldozing spree against ‘unauthorised’ constructions that happened to belong to those who protested against the state — mostly those from the minority community. This was understood to be the ‘UP model’, and gave Yogi the moniker ‘Bulldozer Baba’.

Bommai’s cabinet colleague CN Ashwath Narayan went a step further, saying it’s now time to ‘encounter’ criminals, meaning police encounters can be used to do away with those opposing the government. The state government would certainly take appropriate action, he said. Other ministers and MLAs chimed in with similar ‘threats’.

Yet, the ‘UP model’ of bulldozing houses and groundless ‘encounter killings’ can hardly be replicated in Karnataka, point out political and legal experts. The reasons are varied.

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Constitution doesn’t allow it

Legal experts say there is no provision in the Constitution that allows the state to kill anybody in police encounters in a premeditated manner. If an accused or convict gets killed in an encounter by chance, there are laws to protect the police from legal action, but it’s a stringent, rigorous process.

Similarly, the government cannot bulldoze properties belonging to the mafia or criminals, unless there is solid documentational evidence showing the building is an illegal construction. Even in that case, there are rules to be followed. There are laws dealing with the offences, and a judicial system to mete out punishment if the crime is proven.

As the executive, the state government can keep a check on law-and-order, but not ‘punish’ those found breaking the rules.

While Karnataka has had its fair share of law-and-order issues and political shenanigans, no government has brazenly side-stepped constitutional provisions to deal with them. Loopholes have been spotted and used, but the law has not been brazenly trampled upon. With Assembly elections round the corner, the Bommai government is unlikely to experiment now.

CM, ministers could face legal action

A retired police officer observed that such antics are unbecoming of a Chief Minister or a Minister of State, as their prime duty is to protect the Constitution. They are liable to face the consequences of such irresponsible statements.

All ministers of state, including the Chief Minister, have to take an oath before assuming office, that they shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution. “This oath is administered to him (CM/minister) by the Governor as envisaged under Article 164(3) of the Constitution and, therefore, it is his constitutional duty to abide by the Constitution,” said P Usman, a senior advocate in the High Court of Karnataka.

The statements made by Bommai and Narayan — that they may resort to extra-judicial killings of citizens, or bulldozing houses without due procedure —amount to openly challenging the Constitution. They have hence committed a breach of the oath administered to them, and are technically not entitled to continue in the Council of Ministers, Usman added.

“We have our criminal justice system well in place and if any crime has taken place anywhere in the state, the criminal machinery has to be set in motion. An open challenge to the system by the Chief Minister and another by a ministerial colleague, clearly show that they do not respect the Constitution, as well as the criminal justice system prevailing in our country,” Usman said.

Hindutva is not electorally critical

Political analysts point out that what brought the BJP to power in Karnataka was not Hindutva, but BS Yediyurappa (BSY).

In 2008, following differences with HD Kumaraswamy, BSY was instrumental in bringing the BJP back to power, using ‘Operation Lotus’ to woo 17 MLAs from the Congress and the JDS to form a government in Karnataka. Hindutva had little role in this.

So, will the UP model, mainly aimed at the polarisation of votes, help the BJP to retain power in the state? No, says political commentators. If anything helps the BJP in next year’s Assembly election, it would be a Modi wave and BSY’s leadership — the latter is among the strongest Lingayat leaders now.

In Karnataka, Opposition matters

Unlike some other states, where the ruling party has a Goliath-like presence, Karnataka has a strong Opposition in the Congress and the JDS; those parties would not let the ‘UP model’ slide in unprotestingly.

Bommai and his colleagues may throw in a few ‘threats’ to mollify party cadres, but they know that if they actually carry these out, the Congress and JDS will be out on the streets crying foul.

Encounter death can bring in a lot of bad press, which the Opposition will pounce on. For instance, in the Hyderabad case, where four accused in a gang-rape case were shot dead in encounter, a Supreme court-appointed panel observed that the police action was intentional.

It is unlikely that Karnataka police will take such a risk, considering the legal consequences. Particularly since, following the next election, the new government may not shield them from the law.

Businesses, investments are at stake

The India Innovation Index, released recently by NITI-Aayog, had Karnataka topping the list under the Major States category. After it came Telangana, Haryana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Uttar Pradesh, whose ‘model’ is under discussion, came in at Rank 7.

Karnataka has been praised for its capabilities in human resources utilisation, attracting investments, and achievements in health, education and agriculture. It achieved the 6th place in the Good Governance Index, whereas Uttar Pradesh secured the last place. Karnataka has also achieved remarkable growth in employment generation, with strong IT, biotech and education sectors. Its start-up ecosystem is among the nation’s top three.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the crime rate is among the highest in Uttar Pradesh, while Karnataka is in the 20th position. Encounter killings and bulldozing tactics can immediately bring down business confidence, and have a lasting impact on various metrics.

Karnataka has a cosmopolitan culture

Karnataka has a well-established cosmopolitan culture, where people of all religions and languages have co-existed for decades, if not centuries.

While the coastal districts and part of Malenadu areas have a history of volatility (where the hijab and halal meat issues flared up recently), the state as a whole has been welcoming to all populations. Thanks to the now-decades-old IT industry, people from every part of the country have migrated to Bengaluru, and subsequently to other cities in the state, and the Yogi pattern of strident politics is not likely to go down well there.

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