Game of Thrones Ft. Karnataka

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No one in their right minds would have expected such intense political drama in the state of Karnataka. It is more like a race to power with a series of events happening subsequently which keeps all the political pundits on their toes. With general elections just a year away, Karnataka is a state where no party would like to lose.

Many of us might be baffled and struggling to understand the situation. So, let us try to chronologically analyze the events and the constitutional provisions behind it.

After elections to the Parliament or Legislative Assembly, it is the President or the Governor respectively who have the power to appoint the PM or CM. It is his sole discretion to do so. But even then, he cannot act almost arbitrarily.

According to Justice R S Sarkaria Commission set up in June 1983, if no party has a majority, the Governor has to invite (in that order of preference):

  1. a pre-poll alliance,
  2. the largest single party that is able to gain majority support,
  3. a post-election coalition that has the required members,
  4. a post-election coalition in which partners are willing to extend outside support.

The Governor should then ask the appointed CM to seek a vote of confidence on the floor of the house within 30 days.

Since then, there was a convention of inviting the single largest party emerged in the elections to form the government.

Along the same lines, M M Punchhi Commission set up in April 2007, recommended the order of precedence that the Governor must follow in case of a hung House:

  1. The group with the largest pre-poll alliance commanding the largest number,
  2. Single largest party with the support of others;
  3. A post-electoral coalition with all parties joining the government;
  4. A Post-electoral alliance with some parties joining the government, and the remaining, including Independents, supporting from outside.

In the Assembly elections of Goa and Manipur in 2017, the Governor departed from the convention. The same thing happened in Meghalaya in 2018. In all the cases, Congress emerged as the single largest party. In Goa, Congress won 17 and BJP 13 in 40 member house, Governor decided to invite BJP citing the support of regional parties and independents. The Congress challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, which asked the CM to take a floor test to prove majority. BJP was easily able to pass the vote of confidence.

In Karnataka, in the house of 224 members (elections were held for 222 seats), the majority mark was 112. BJP managed to secure 104 and Congress and JD(S) alliance secured 116, which crossed the magic number. Even then, the Governor invited the BJP to form the government and gave it a time period of 15 days to prove the majority in the house. The Congress-JD(S) alliance again went on to file a petition which the Supreme Court heard at morning 2 AM but were unable to prevent the swearing-in ceremony of the CM. The petition said that despite Congress-JD(S) showing the required numbers to form the government, the Governor chose otherwise.

Now, the CM has 15 days to pass the vote of confidence. But how exactly will he be able to achieve it? There are certain ways which are referred to as Horse-Trading. It means asking MLAs to act outside expected party directives to help the other party. It amounts to political corruption.

Hence, he may ask rival MLAs to vote in his favour during the motion of confidence or simply ask them to resign so that 104 seats are itself sufficient to prove majority. He can then ask those defected MLAs to contest by-polls from BJP tickets and if they win, the BJP can well ensure the stability of their government.

This sets a bad precedence wherein there could be a danger of any party becoming autocratic. That will be the last nail in the coffin of democracy. As the swearing-in of the CM is subject to the final decision of the Supreme Court, it is high time for the Court to act at its earliest to get things right.

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