The dilemmas of partisanship

IN Opinion | 01/01/1900
The dilemmas of partisanship



The goings-on in Goa and Jharkhand had newspapers performing some very remarkable contortions.


You don’t say!


Darius Nakhoonwala


Two things can give Indian leader writers apoplexy. One is Hindu violence against Muslims; the other is gubernatorial violence against the Constitutional propriety. True, other forms also lead to higher blood pressure. But the potential blood-vessel poppers are these two.

So, all of last week, I was particularly concerned for the poor dears. First the goings-on in Goa, then in Jharkhand and finally the possibility of further violence in Bihar - it was not at all what the doctors recommend. 

The Hindu called the events in Goa "competitive debasement of values" because two constitutional functionaries — the Speaker and the Governor — had used "more foul means than fair to shape government formation."

After a brief recount of the events, the paper’s preference for the Congress over the BJP hove into clear view. It more-or-less said that two wrongs make a right. "…the BJP cannot really complain against the tables being turned now" apparently because its hands were not clean either.

"In constitutional terms, however, if an outcome manipulated by a partisan Speaker could not be taken as a true indication of the support for the Parrikar regime, it cannot legitimise the Rane Government either." Hence President’s rule was appropriate. It didn’t seem to occur to the paper that the Congress was only cutting its losses.

The Hindu’s discomfiture over the awful table manners of a friend was multiplied several times over just a few days later when Governor Syed Sibtey Razi installed, "in far from decent haste" a Congress inspired government led by that former absconder from the law, Shibu Soren.

It is truly amazing what contortions The Hindu is capable of. For instance, "The BJP-JD(U) had a legitimate claim to the first turn, the first chance to prove its majority on the floor of the newly elected Assembly. This pre-poll alliance had more seats than the JMM-Congress, of course, but also a larger vote share — 27.5 per cent against 26 per cent. This by itself did not entitle the ruling alliance to an invitation to form the Government. (Italics mine.)It is now widely accepted that no special sanctity attaches to the single largest party or pre-poll alliance. The Governor (or President) is required by democratic norms to offer the first turn to a party or a combination of parties that, in his or her objective judgment, is most likely to win a floor test."

I will rest my case against The Hindu’s partisanship.

The Telegraph appeared caught in a bind, so it took a first-principles approach. "It must be a bizarre system that leaves the conduct of a high public office to the "discretion" of an inDIVidual." It then discussed this systemic fault. Well, yes, but discretion is always necessary, and what matters is the nobility (or otherwise) of intent. The paper missed this point altogether and went off into the old debate about defining the governor’s role in such situations. Actually, there is nothing to it at all. The Governor only has to form a queue of claimants on the basis of pre-poll alliances and make sure it is observed. The paper recognized this and called for a law to this effect, so that the Governors discretion I the matter can be eliminated.


The next day the paper launched into the President. Saying that "he is the head of state without any substantive powers… somewhat akin to the position of the monarch in the United Kingdom", it went on to say that Indian democracy "is premised on the inactivity of the president."

Then came the gripe. "Presidential activism in the sphere of politics is a threat to the cabinet form of government and thus to the democratic body politic. This is what makes the actions of Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam regarding the political situation in Jharkhand absolutely unacceptable and politically lethal… the president is not the moral guardian of politicians. Unwittingly, Mr Kalam as the president is setting a bad precedent."

The same paper, however, had not been so disapproving when K R Narayanan was delving into his bag tricks soon after he became President in 1998.

The Indian Express took a more respectable stand. And no one could have put it better than it did. The editorial is worth quoting at length.

"There are no saints in this story," it said.  "The earlier speaker, Vishwas Satarkar, was no saint when he won for Parrikar a vote of confidence by disqualifying from the assembly a member of the opposition. Governor S.C. Jamir was no saint when he decided — whether on instructions from the Congress high command or not — that the Parrikar government deserved to be dismissed given the impropriety of the speaker, and then did not even wait until daylight to swear in the Rane government. Pro-tem Speaker Sardinha was no saint when he chose to disqualify a member from the United Goans Democratic Party — who chose for whatever reason to ignore his party’s whip and throw his lot in with the BJP in this instance — and thus ensured that Rane won his vote of confidence. Rane is no saint. He has already announced that all the MLAs defecting to his party will be fielded by the Congress in forthcoming by-elections."


Feedbck on this column can be sent to

Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More