In the bitterly fought election to the Karnataka Assembly, there are no winners or losers. The Janata Dal (Secular) expected to play kingmaker but may become king if all goes according to its plans, though it came third in the race.
With the Congress having 78 MLAs extending unconditional support to the JD (S) which has 37 MLAs in the new Assembly against the BJP’s 104 seats in the 224-member House in which two seats are vacant, the claim of HD Kumaraswamy, leader of the JD(S), to be invited to form the government is legitimate. He has the added support of the two independent MLAs, taking his support to 117.
BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s nominee for Chief Minister, has promised Governor Vajubhai R Vala, a veteran RSS-BJP warhorse, to prove his majority on the floor of the House in seven days. He simply does not have the numbers beyond the 104 seats the BJP won. Giving the BJP the first chance to form the government on its being the single largest party would be to encourage horse-trading of MLAs, a practice the Governor should discourage.
There is no provision in the Constitution that the single largest party should be invited first. The Bommai judgment of 1994 says Raj Bhavans should not be the place to determine the majority of claimants. The tradition of calling the single largest party first was observed in the breach in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya in recent times to favour the BJP. What is good for the BJP is good for the JD(S) and the Congress also.
As a last resort, the BJP has taken up the question of the people’s mandate and asks how the two parties ‘rejected’ by the people can stake claim to form government. The people of Karnataka have certainly not rejected the Congress.
In the 2013 election the Congress polled 36.59 percent of the votes which translated into 121 Assembly seats. In the current election, its percentage of votes increased to 38.4 against the BJP’s tally of 36.2 percent. More people voted for the Congress than the BJP though the latter secured 104 seats against 78 seats the former won.
This distortion is due to our archaic election system of ‘first-past-the-post’ which is least scientific. Most governments in India since independence were formed on minority votes, that is less than 50 per cent of the votes cast. The JD(S)-Congress coalition has the backing of more than 56 per cent of the Karnataka electorate.
In the event of Governor Vala, who was number two in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat government for a decade, inviting Yeddyurappa, who had to resign as Chief Minister in 2011 in the illegal mining scam and the case is still pending in the Supreme Court, the BJP would have to persuade at least eight Congress or JD(S) MLAs to absent themselves at the time of the trust vote or resign their Assembly membership for a price. If this happens, what price democracy!
The writer, a veteran journalist, is founder Director of the Statesman Print Journalism School.