Some years ago, IT icon N.R. Narayana Murthy had commented upon the attitude of people who swept just their front doorsteps with nary a bother over whether the garbage was collecting over at their neighbours’ or elsewhere. Murthy’s point was that as long as people’s mindsets didn’t change and garbage wasn’t deposited in the nearest dustbin—which used to exist in Bangalore then—the city would never be clean.
The Infosys man’s comment didn’t go down well with many those days since he had, in a way, exposed the people’s apathy towards the city. And this is true not just for Karnataka but it seems for all of India as well. The “road before my house is clean, the rest is not my concern” mindset is what bugged him, akin to a commonly used Kannada phrase, “Nammage yaake, ennaadru aagli.” Translated loosely, it means: “Why should we be concerned, let anything happen.”
It seems to be this approach that defines the role of Karnataka in what’s come to be called the DA (disproportionate assets) case of Jayaram Jayalalitha, AIADMK chief and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Karnataka, unwittingly, landed up with this unwanted baby because the SC transferred the case out after 70 witnesses reversed their statements to the trial court in Tamil Nadu once Jayalalitha returned to power. K. Anbazhagan, the DMK leader whose only assignment appears to be to valiantly counter Jayalalitha on every available legal platform, won his argument before the apex court that justice was being made a mockery of.
At that point of time, Karnataka did not want to even suggest to the SC that it was an inappropriate location keeping in mind the history of the Cauvery dispute and the resultant tensions that have arisen over a century. It did not even want to point out to the apex court that every time Jayalalitha became CM, litigation against Karnataka on the sharing of the Cauvery waters had only increased. Every time she has come to power, a frown has crossed the face of every law minister and law secretary in Karnataka, wary as they are about the extra verve she carries against her home state.
Nevertheless, it accepted the fait accompli, appointed senior advocate B.V. Acharya as the special public prosecutor in consultation with the chief justice of the high court, and let the trial go through its twists and turns. Its problem began when Acharya was forced to throw in the towel during the BJP regime in the state. They appointed Bhavani Singh as the spp just before going out of power as a corrupt government. Six months later, the Congress government withdrew his appointment, leading to the most peculiar aspect of this case: the prosecutor’s removal was questioned by the accused. And she won the case as it was considered a mala fide action by Karnataka.
Karnataka could have, very well, appointed another spp in place of Bhavani Singh by following the right procedure. But, just as in the battle over sharing of Cauvery waters, Karnataka took one step forward and jumped two steps back. It did not deem it fit to say that it had the right to decide who the prosecutor should be. It did not realise until recently—and one has this on authority of a senior lawyer who has followed the case closely—that the apex court verdict of 2008 in the Jayendra Saraswati case even existed. That when a case is transferred to another state, the transferee state becomes the prosecutor. Maybe if it was aware of this, it could have pointed out to the apex court in September 2013 that political motives could not be attributed to Karnataka because it had the right to decide the prosecutor in this case. Instead, Karnataka hurriedly shrivelled into a shell and adopted the “why-should-we-get-involved-simply” approach. This, even as Bhavani Singh began to represent cases of the directorate of vigilance and anti-corruption of the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu. It did not even become a party to the appeal in the appellate court that replaced conviction with acquittal.
Politically, it is well-known that when a politician is in trouble, those unaffected or unconnected to said person normally let things be. There’s always some kind of a part-of-the-brotherhood “oh poor thing” happening. But in this case, there is something more. There is Jayalalitha. So the approach is why must we have anything to do with her. Nobody knows when she will come back to power and what she will do, being the vindictive person she is known to be. It’s better to keep our porch clean so that we are not the cause of any spreading disease. If the disease (of corruption) has to be arrested, it is not our concern. That is the neighbour’s problem. Any wonder then that Karnataka comes across as a state always wavering or unsure of itself.