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Karnataka government formation: When the ends justify the means

What was the Karnataka mandate for? And what was it against? The mandate was not for the Congress; the mandate was not for the JD(S), and; the mandate was not even for the BJP

editorials Updated: May 17, 2018 23:17 IST
Hindustan Times
JD(S) and Congress supporters and MLAs stage a dharna in front of the Gandhi Statue near Vidhan Soudha to protest against Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala's invitation to BJP to form the government, Bengaluru, May 17(PTI)

What was the Karnataka mandate for? And what was it against? It’s important to answer these questions even as the controversy over the governor’s invitation to BS Yeddyurappa to form the government rages.

The mandate was not for the Congress, which was the party in power and ended up with 78 seats in the 224-member house (that, and the fact that a little over half the Cabinet lost, means it was a mandate against the Congress). The mandate was not for the JD(S), which won 38 seats (including one that its partner, the BSP, won). And the mandate was not even for the BJP, which won 104 seats.

In a first past the post system, the party with the required majority gets to form the government. In Karnataka’s case that number is 112 (elections were not held to two seats; if they had been, the required number would have been 113). If no party ends up with a majority, and there is no pre-poll alliance, then the question of who gets to form the government usually ends up being a function of two things: the ability of the parties to form alliances or get enough legislators to abstain to ensure they pass a floor test on majority; and the discretion of the governor.

The Karnataka governor decided to invite the single largest party, the BJP, whose leader, Mr Yeddyurappa, staked his claim to form the government — which means he expressed his confidence of proving his majority on the floor of the house. Meanwhile, the Congress decided to support the JD(S), which means there was a post-poll grouping with the requisite numbers (this combine has 116; 117, counting the ephemeral support of an independent legislator who has changed his mind several times already). The governor chose to ignore the claim of this alliance, though, prompting the Congress to reach out to the Supreme Court. The court will hear the case on Friday.

Irrespective of which way the court decides, there are two disturbing aspects of this drama. The first is that by explicitly ignoring the claim of the Congress-JD(S), and giving the BJP 15 days to prove its majority, the governor, while not breaking any laws, does seem to have exercised his discretion to the advantage of one party. This has happened before (and will probably happen again), but since governors are expected to be above politics, it makes sense to place this on the record each time it does.

The second is that, relatively speaking, the BJP does have more of a mandate to govern than either the Congress and the JD(S), and by supporting the chief ministerial candidature of a party with a mere 38 legislators, the Congress is definitely subverting the verdict. Again, this has happened before (and will probably happen again).

In politics, clearly, there is unanimity among parties of all hues that the ends justify the means.

First Published: May 17, 2018 18:09 IST