Karnataka election results: While the BJP has emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats, the Congress won 78 seats and the JD(S)+ 38 in 224-member Assembly.
The fractured mandate that the Karnataka election results have delivered have brought the Raj Bhavan in Bengaluru in spotlight. Governor Vajubhai Vala is tasked with the crucial decision of inviting either the Bharatiya Janata Party, the single largest party or the Congress-JD(S) post-poll alliance, to provide an opportunity to prove majority on the floor of the House. While the BJP has emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats, the Congress won 78 seats and the JD(S)+ 38. The post-pol alliance forged between the Congress and the JD(S) lands them ahead of the halfway mark of 113 needed to form a government.
The ball now lies in the court of Vala, who hails from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat and had, in 2001, vacated Rajkot-II (now renamed as Rajkot West), to allow Modi contest from here to take over as the CM. On the other hand, the Congress has been claiming that the post-post alliance between Congress and JD(S) should be given the chance as the alliance has enough numbers.
Constitutional experts say that the decision is entirely the discretion of the Governor. Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, senior constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said that the Governor should invite the single largest party to form a government first. Kashyap said that the Governor will need to satisfy himself that the person he is inviting to form a government, commands majority on the floor of the House. “As far as the Constitution is concerned, the Governor has the discretion to appoint anyone. But since the person is to be appointed as the CM, the person must command majority support,” he said.
According to Kahyap, various commissions have laid down principles stating that the party which commands majority should be decided inside the House. “The Governor will try to satisfy himself who commands the majority in the House. Sarkaria Commission had given the principles that the party which commands majority should be decided on the floor of the House, not on the lawns of the Raj Bhavan,” Kashyap said.
He added that the Governor should first ask the BJP to form a government. “Still better, in my opinion, under the Article 175, he should send a message to the House to know who commands majority support in the House, which means the House will elect the CM… that will keep the Governor completely out of controversy,” Kashyap said.
When asked about the prospects and implications if a ‘minority government’ and few MLAs of the vote in favour of the BJP on the floor of the House, Kashyap said, “The voting requirement is of those present at the time of voting, not the total members. If there are some members who defy their party directives, then the disqualification proceedings starts in the Speaker’s chamber. At that time, the government will survive. There have been cases when these proceedings have continuesd for 2.5 years or more.”
Supreme Court lawyer and constitutional expert Dushyant Dave said that the Governor should invite the single largest party to form a government. “Governor should invite the single largest party,” he said. When asked what the Governor’s step could be if the JD(S) and Congress jointly stake claim to form government, he said, “He (Governor) will be obliged to invite them, but Governor can find an excuse and say your alliance was not a pre-poll, hence I will give the BJP chance first to form government.”
Dave added that if the BJP forms a government with current the strength of MLAs, and few MLAs of the JD(S) vote in favour of the BJP minority government, it will survive. “Suppose 10 MLAs vote in the favour of the BJP… everybody works according to the Constitution, be it political parties, Governor or the Speaker… The MLAs may be disqualified but the government of that time will survive.”
According to The Indian Express, Vala had in 2001 vacated his Rajkot-II (now renamed Rajkot West) seat to allow Narendra Modi to contest from here to take over as the CM of Gujarat. Vala was then state Finance minister. The seat was returned to him in 2002 Assembly polls. Vala was still an MLA and service as Speaker prior to his appointment as the Governor of Karnataka in September 2014.
Talks of forging an alliance between the Congress and JD(S) are underway in Bengaluru in view of the hung verdict. According to ANI, senior Congress leaders reached out to JD(S) leader HD Dewe Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy to jointly form the government. ANI reported that the JD(S) has reacted positively to the Congress’ offer. While the Congress has 76 MLAs, the JD(S) has 38 legislators. If the two decides to come together, the alliance will have comfortably cross the magic figure of 112. The BJP has emerged as the single largest party with 108 MLAs.
The options before the Governor
As per the constitutional convention, a Governor is usually expected to be bound to invite the single largest party to form the government and subsequently prove its majority on the floor of the House. However, the government formation process following Goa Assembly elections in 2017 saw the Supreme Court reject a challenge thrown by the Congress in this regard.
When the Congress moved the Supreme Court after the Governor invited the BJP to form the government despite the Congress emerging the single largest party in the polls, the apex court had said that the Congress erred in not staking claim to form the government. The point to note here is that at no point did the court say that the Governor erred in not consulting the single largest party before inviting the BJP to form a government. Moreover, the BJP did stake claim to form the government.
So what are the options before the Governor, specifically going by the Constitutional convention?
What the Constitution says
The Goa dilemma exposed the gap in terms of specific constitutional guidelines in terms of clear directives on what the Governor should do in case of a hung verdict. The constitutional convention, however, was laid down in the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, and affirmed by the top court 13 years ago.