The politics of Delhi is back in the news and, sadly, for all the wrong reasons. A CD released by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) purports to show BJP leaders attempting to bribe its MLAs so that the BJP can form a government. Many will, therefore, conclude that the lieutenant governor invited this problem by seeking to form a government. An immediate election was the better option.
I’m afraid that’s a hasty conclusion. You only have to consider three questions to realise an election is neither necessary nor inevitable. This is because after AAP’s right to demand an early election was wrongly refused in February, a new constitutional logic has come into play. Now you can’t ignore it.
First, was the lieutenant governor right to seek permission to invite the BJP to form a government or should he have simply sought to dissolve the Delhi assembly and go for fresh polls? After keeping the assembly in suspended animation for six months, in the hope a government could be possible at a later date, it was incumbent on him to try to form one before deciding on dissolution. Not to have attempted this would have made a mockery of his own decision to keep the assembly suspended. And the only way that can be tried is by asking the BJP, the single-largest party, if it’s willing to form a government.
Now comes the second critical question: Can the BJP form a government without bribing MLAs of other parties to either abstain or resign and vacate their seats? Most people have concluded that with 28 MLAs in a house of 67, which requires 34 for a majority, the answer has to be no. They are wrong.
What they’ve overlooked is that the BJP can form a minority government. It may not have happened earlier in Delhi but it’s happened at the national level (Narasimha Rao from 1991 to 1996) and it’s perfectly legal, legitimate and constitutional.
Of course, if the BJP does form a minority government it will only survive as long as the majority in the Delhi assembly permits it to do so. But that could be a fairly long while. Let me explain.
Only if the Congress and AAP combine can a minority BJP government be defeated. AAP may be ready to bring it down but is the Congress? As this paper revealed on Monday, an early election — which will be the outcome of defeating a minority BJP government — doesn’t suit the Congress. The party needs time to rebuild its strength. The December state elections and the May national elections left it decimated. Equally importantly, time could also diminish the appeal of AAP.
For both these reasons the Congress could choose to keep a BJP minority government in office for several years. It can do so by either abstaining in a vote of confidence or creating a pretext to walk out.
Do you now see why AAP is so keen to push for early elections? A delay doesn’t suit the party because time is not on its side.
Finally, if I’m sceptical, this is one possible reason why AAP has repeatedly alleged the BJP has attempted to lure its MLAs with bribes. If the party can convince the lieutenant governor or the President that skulduggery is afoot, it might push them towards an early election without exhausting the possibility of a viable minority government. Seen in this light, AAP’s CD can be interpreted very differently.
The views expressed by the author are personal.