The mad race to stake claim in a hung house | Opinion
From one-day chief minister to 13-day prime minister, Indian parliamentary history is replete with tales of leaders who occupied the coveted chair, but failed to prove their majority or resigned before the trust vote on the floor of the house.
Why? Somehow, politicians believe that an invite from Raj Bhawan or Rashtrapati Bhawan would also get them the required numbers in a hung house. After all, at the end of the cat-and-mouse game in a hung house, it’s the arithmetic that plays a crucial role in deciding who will eventually wear the crown.
What happened in Maharashtra recently is not new and although the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis became chief minister with the shortest tenure of less than 80 hours in his own state, the instance has even shorter lived precedents. The late Prime Minister Charan Singh, who resigned before facing parliament in 1979 or Harish Rawat, who was chief minister of Uttarakhand for a day in 2016.
The Kisan leader Charan Singh was sworn in after Congress, headed by late prime minister Indira Gandhi, extended support to him. The then President Sanjiva Reddy administered the oath of office on 28 July 1979 and the Lok Sabha met on 20 August, 1979. But he drove straight to the Rashtrapati Bhawan to tender his resignation instead of reaching the Lok Sabha to prove his majority. The President , while inviting him to form the government, had advised him to seek a vote of confidence at the earliest possible opportunity, say by third week of August 1979. Perhaps, he is the only Prime Minister who packed his bags without even facing the Parliament once.
While BS Yediyurappa made a dramatic exit from the chair after an emotional speech in the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha barely 72 hours after his swearing in ceremony in 2018, Jagdambika Pal, after being chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for 48 hours, fought and lost a unique composite floor test against the BJP’s Kalyan Singh in 1998.
In several of such short lived tenures, the chief ministers, with their fate hanging in balance, often go on an overdrive. Harish Rawat, held two cabinet meetings in Uttrakhand, and Jagdambika Pal, who took some crucial decisions within hours of occupying the chair even as the displaced chief minister Kalyan Singh and his party, led by late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were holding a fast unto death.
The country also had a 13-day Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who failed to prove his trust vote in Parliament in 1996. The then President Shankar Dayal Sharma was criticised for his decision to invite the single largest party, as the constitutional heads are bound to explore all options of government formation before going for mid-term poll or imposition of President’s rule.
Many such decisions have been much debated. In 1997, UP governor Romesh Bhandari refused to invite the single largest party because he said he was not convinced about the stability of the government.
The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Kalyan Singh was confident of getting the support of an additional 40 MLAs that he had needed to reach the majority mark once the invite came from the Raj Bhawan. But he did not have a friend in Raj Bhawan.
A year later, same Bhandari administered the oath of office to Jagdambika Pal, the leader of 22-member Loktantrik Congress Party and did not raise the stability issue. Though Pal had mustered letters of support from non-BJP parties, he himself had barely 22 members in a house of 424.
Usually, the governor’s satisfaction about the majority enjoyed by the leader staking claim to form the government is vital but a head count is done, not in the Raj Bhawan, but on the floor of the House.
Thus there has been no one norm followed by governors. There are other themes that have come up in the formation of fragile governments: the timing of holding the swearing in ceremony and the timeframe given for the trust vote.
For instance, in Maharashtra, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari held the swearing in ceremony at 8 am, while his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh Romesh Bhandari had called for the swearing-in ceremony at 10.30 pm.
The timeframe for the confidence vote often varies from seven to 15 days. The courts have had to intervene in some recent instances as the aggrieved party knocked on their door for justice, even at odd hours.
The failure of the parties to install their governments, without having the required majority in both Karnataka and Maharashtra in recent years may end the scramble for the first invite from the Raj Bhawan or Rashtrapati Bhawan.