EVERY conscious Indian is watching what is happening after the announcement of the election results in Karnataka and wondering, “Is this democracy?” First, the Congress and the Janata Dal(Secular), which were believed to be sworn enemies, combined in a twinkling of an eye to stake claim to power; and then, the single largest party the BJP, despite being well short of a majority, started misusing its powers to grab power. The BJP is claiming that some MLAs from the Congress and the JD(S) are on its side, and the Congress and JD(S) are making counter claims that some BJP MLAs are in contact with them. JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy has accused the BJP of offering Rs 100 crore and a ministry to his party MLAs. Horse trading is a familiar activity whenever an election delivers a hung Assembly, and even though the amount might never be known, the offers being made by either camp must be very lucrative, as the stakes are quite high.
Governor Vajubhai Vala is obviously not in a position to decide on his own, though as speaker of the Gujarat Assembly he had earned the reputation of being non-partisan. Governors have very little room to act according to their conscience on matters of who forms the state government. They have to be guided by the President, who is advised by the council of ministers. In effect, it comes to mean that the ruling party (or the main party in the case of coalition) running the central government tries to find a constitutional and legal justification to grab power in a state even if it does not have a clear majority in the Assembly. And the Governor has to just parrot that justification. When the Congress was in power at the Centre they did it in some states; and the BJP has followed in the footsteps of the “murderer of democracy” (their words). In Goa, the Governor did not invite the single largest party, the Congress, but the post-poll alliance of the BJP and the Goa Forward Party and the MGP. In Manipur too, the Governor did not give chance to the single largest party, the Congress to prove its majority. However, in Karnataka, BJP legislature party leader B S Yeddyurappa is already claiming he is going to take oath as chief minister! While the Congress-JD(S) alliance, which has a majority, is waiting for an invitation!
The BJP, despite being placed at number two in Goa and Manipur, was invited by the Governor to form the government. Why? Because, the central government is in the hands of the BJP. Would the BJP have succeeded in getting Governor’s invitation to form government in Goa or Manipur if the central government was in the hands of the Congress or some other party or coalition? The constitution bench of the Supreme Court has given its ruling more than once on who the Governor can invite to form government in a state. The bench has settled the question on the norm of inviting the single largest party by laying down that the Governor can invite an alliance of parties, pre-poll or post-poll, if he or she is convinced that they have the majority and can form a stable government. The BJP relied on the Supreme Court ruling when they took over power in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya. It is clear from the Supreme Court rulings that the only yardstick the Governor has to use before inviting a party or alliance is whether they have the right numbers to make a majority, which can assure stability of the government. In the Karnataka case, the Congress-JD(S) alliance have the numbers to make a majority – 117 in a 224-member House.
The top leaders of both the BJP and the Congress attach great value to being in power in Karnataka. To the BJP, Karnataka is the gateway to South India. The BJP, and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, have a much wider and larger presence in North India than in South India. For Modi, Karnataka is important for two reasons. One, he wants to go down in history as the BJP leader who spread the party in South India. Two, he has a personal stake in doing so, as the time for him to seek a renewal of his mandate has come near. To the Congress, retaining Karnataka is a question of life and death. It does not want to be reduced to PPP (Punjab, Puducherry and Parivar), an acronym Modi coined in his characteristic caustic mode. However, India and Indians hope neither party injects more poison in the body of democracy, which is already in a semi-conscious state from previous poisoning, just for the sake of furthering their own growth.