The absence of a statute in the Constitution delineating which party or alliance a governor must invite to form the government in a hung Assembly has thrown up a quixotic drama across the country from the Supreme Court to the States Bihar, Goa and Manipur. Viewing the decision of Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala to swear in the single largest party BJP led by BS Yeddyurappa as a rule that can be applied with retrospective effect, the RJD has approached the governor of Bihar to reinstate its government, which was lost when Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) deserted the mahagathbandhan to reunite with the BJP in the NDA. Along the lines of the half-baked logic that the single largest party must rule a State, the INC has approached the governors of Goa and Manipur. Jaws dropped when no less than the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices AK Sikri, SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan could not negate the claim of Mukul Rohatgi when the advocate argued that the BJP was confident of proving its majority on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly House. It virtually said that the INC claim, based on names of elected legislators of the INC and JD(S) combine might not be invalid either. If the highest court of the country is not sure which of the two sides is right, which institution are the citizens supposed to look up to for deliverance in tricky situations like the one the Karnataka Assembly election results have thrown up? But then, as argued in the article by our editor-in-chief, the judiciary cannot be faulted for this utter confusion. If neither the Sarkaria Commission nor the SR Bommai versus Union of India case verdict could settle the dispute, any judgment that comes from the case of Karnataka would doubtfully settle the dispute once and for all. At best, while the commission and the judgment dealt with Article 356 (imposition of President’s Rule on a State), the verdict on the Karnataka imbroglio could address the question as to which side must be invited for government formation when faced with a hung House. Yet, as in the period post-1994 where the Bommai judgment was not respected in letter and spirit on several occasions, the upholding of the judgment that is yet to be delivered in the future is not assured.
The uninitiated alone would compare Karnataka with Bihar, Goa and Manipur. There are stark differences between the scenarios. The dispute is over the question of inviting one of the sides to form the government in the event of a hung Assembly, not about declaring an established government as null and void in the middle of its tenure, the latter being the case of the INC and RJD. India’s oldest party had forgotten to stake the claim — or was too lazy to rise to the occasion in the nick of time — when it had emerged as the single largest party following the election to the Goa Assembly. In Manipur, the National People’s Party, which outgoing chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh claimed to be supporting his alliance, had actually pledged its support to the alliance of which the BJP was a part while one INC MLA had defected to the BJP, cocking a snook at the anti-defection law. Singh’s claim had, thus, turned dubious. Whereas Karnataka, in contrast, is witnessing the usual south Indian political drama of INC and JD(S) MLAs being whisked away to hideouts to save them from getting ‘poached’, one never knows how they will vote on 19 May, the day fixed by the Supreme Court for Yeddyurappa to prove he enjoys the support of at least 112 MLAs.
If the BJP government of 48 hours falls, that is not a guarantee for a stable dispensation. A bigamous HD Kumaraswamy had led a government for a year and 253 days in the last decade and his reputation remains marred by the Janthakal Mining scam; a special investigation team is still probing the case. This is unlike the charges of corruption against Yeddyurappa. The Karnataka High Court quashed the denotification case against him in 2015. The court set aside the order of sanction that had been issued by the then Governor HR Bhardwaj to try him in five cases. A special Lokayukta court dismissed four FIRs against him. The allegation of encroachment of land in Bhadra Reserve Forest by Yeddyurappa and others was found bogus while the high court also quashed the case of complaint of irregularities in the Upper Bhadra irrigation project. The Goebbelsian propaganda that Yeddyurappa is a corrupt politician, unfortunately, refuses to end. Finally, if the alleged cases of corruption against Kumaraswamy do not necessarily imply he would head a weak government, recall the central governments led by Chandrashekhar, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral. The INC has had a history of withdrawing support from governments run by junior partners or alliances to which it lends outside support on utterly eccentric grounds. Chandrashekhar fell because the INC suspected a police constable was loitering around Rajiv Gandhi’s residence! Sitaram Kesri arguably could not stand Deve Gowda whom Kesri’s predecessor PV Narasimha Rao had no problems with. Soon after the Vokkaliga leader from Karnataka was replaced by Gujral as the prime minister came the Jain Commission report that indicted the DMK for its support to the LTTE. Finding it ‘sacrilegious’ that their party was supporting a coalition government in which a supporter of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins was an ally, the INC pulled that government down. If the hurly-burly of the past three days over Karnataka is about providing it with a stable government, not letting the BJP run a majority or minority government in the State is a sure shot recipe for instability.