Op-Ed: Karnataka Takeaway: Time to Remove Grey Area in Constitution

“Heads I win, Tails you lose.” That is the golden principle the BJP has followed in state after state since coming to power at the Centre in 2014 whenever it has failed to secure an absolute majority or even to emerge as the single largest party. Last year, it was invited to form the government in Goa even though the Congress had won more seats than it on the ground that it led a post-poll alliance that had the required majority. It adopted the same tactic later to form the government in Manipur and Meghalaya. (And for heaven’s sake, don’t give me that crap that it was the decision of the concerned Governors and not the BJP!)

Just when it appeared that this practice of inviting the leader of a post-poll alliance rather than the single largest party had become the new convention in situations where no party has a clear majority came Karnataka where the shoe was on the other foot. After the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats, the Congress and the JD (S) were quick to stitch up an alliance under the impression that the Governor would follow the precedence set in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya earlier and invite it to form the government. But on Wednesday, Governor Vajubhai Bala conveniently jettisoned the convention set last year to invite BJP Legislature Party leader BS Yeddyyurappa to be sworn in as Chief Minister. And the latter predictably lost no time in grabbing the offer with both hands and fixing the swearing in for 9.30 AM on Thursday morning.

Even counting the support of the two Independent MLAs, it is crystal that the only way Yeddyyurappa can prove his majority in the House is through that time-tested ‘fine art’ of horse trading. That is the reason newly elected MLAs of the newly formed alliance have been bundled into buses and packed off to a resort so that the long arm of the cash rich BJP don’t reach them. Even allowing for some hyperbole, alliance leader HD Kumaraswamy’s claim that his MLAs were being offered Rs 100 crores each (along with ministerial berths, mind you!) to support the BJP is mind-boggling. Given the weak moral fibre – and even its complete absence – in most of our politicians, many JD (S) and Congress MLAs would find even a fraction of this amount too irresistible to refuse. [I recall a dialogue in Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic ‘Deewar’ where a haggard looking MacMohan tells Pran, “Paanch lakh? Itne mein to main apne baap ko bech doon!)

If the BJP does manage to wean away a few MLAs from either the Congress or JD (S) as expected, it would no doubt be a subversion of democracy. But unfortunately, neither of the two parties can play the victim card. The JD (S), in any case, has nothing to lose. After all, it had won just 38 out of the 222 Assembly seats and thus had the least claim to form the government. It would be the Congress that would be the real loser if it fails to keep the BJP out even after foregoing its claim to form the government and deciding to prop up a JD (S) government instead. Unfortunately though, the Congress will have little sympathy because terms like ‘horse trading’, ‘floor crossing’ and ‘resort hopping’ are its own contribution to the political lexicon of India.

Forget horse trading for a moment. Would democracy have been upheld if the Governor had invited the Congress-JD (S) alliance to form the government? Would it not have been a betrayal of the verdict given by the people of Karnataka, which was for the Congress and more so the JD (S) to sit in the opposition benches? Those crying ‘murder of democracy’ now should also ponder over whether or not inviting the opportunistic alliance would also have amounted to such a ‘murder’.

If such ugly, unsavoury situations keep happening far too frequently for comfort in Indian politics, the reason has to be found in the ambiguity in the Constitution, which gives the Governor far too much discretion in such scenarios. All that the Constitution says is that the Governor will invite the leader of the largest single party or alliance, which in his/her view is most likely to command a majority in the House and thus form a stable government. How the Governor arrives at a decision as to who is most likely to command a majority has been left entirely to his/her good sense.

In the light of recent experiences, including the one that is unfolding in Karnataka right now, it is perhaps time to replace the grey area in the Constitution with a clear prescription – single largest party or largest post-poll alliance – in black and white that leaves no room for any ambiguity or discretion on the part of the Governor – or the President, as the case may be.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)