I have invariably observed that the Delhi-based journalists and political analysts, and they include some of the “big names” whom you usually see on news channels every evening or read in the news papers every morning, hardly predict election-results correctly. At least, that has been my experience over the last five years, something that I pointed out to a leading industrialist of the country who had invited a select group of journalists for dinner few days before the Karnataka Assembly results were out. Predictably, my blunt observation did not go well with my friends present on the occasion, though they grudgingly accepted that I had a point.
Customarily, these ladies and gentlemen base their predictions on the basis of how they themselves would have voted, not on how the people have voted. Needless to say that these senior media personnel are pathologically opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and what he says or does. They never had dreamt that Modi would become the Prime Minister or for that matter the Modi-led BJP would be in power in as many as twenty-odd states in the country. Predictably, therefore, 99 percent of those present on the occasion told the host industrialist that the Congress would either have a majority of its own under the “extremely” popular Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah or emerge as the single largest majority-party close to the majority mark of 111. And in that event, they all were unanimous in emphasising that the Governor, even if an appointee of Modi-led central government, must invite the Congress to form the government. And in emphasising this, they all argued why the Modi-regime must respect “morality” and “sound constitutional conventions” in the situations of fractured mandate or hung-assemblies, something the Modi government did not do in states like Goa and Manipur by preventing the Congress, the single largest party, from forming governments not long ago.
However, on April 15 and 16, I discovered that almost all of these “big names” had undergone a change of heart. They were vehemently pleading why the Karnataka governor must not invite the BJP, the single largest party, to form the government and allow, on the contrary, the combination of the Congress and JD(S) to take over the governance of the state. And what I found most amazing that they were quoting an article, copies of which were liberally distributed by the Congress party those days. This article was written by the senior BJP leader and central minister Arun Jaitley, justifying why the Governors in both Goa and Manipur were right in swearing in BJP-led coalitions.
I may highlight the fact that these great analysts and commentators had not done their home work and were blindly reliant on the Congress version. In both Goa and Manipur, the Congress party, despite emerging as the single largest party, had not staked to claim the government, aware probably of the fact that it would not able to muster the required number on the floor of the assembly to save its government. However, my point is different here. Let us assume that Jaitley or for that matter the BJP was wrong and immoral in installing governments in these two states( something Congress luminaries like Kapil Sibal and K Tulshi had talked of during those days). But how come what was immoral yesterday (of denying the single largest party the first opportunity for trying to form a government) has become moral today? Does that mean that the Congress then was wrong in criticising the BJP and Jaitley? Does that mean that Jaitley is now the “Marg Darshak” of the Congress party and these senior analysts/ commentators?
Of course, some of these ladies and gentlemen are citing another factor for ignoring the principle of the single largest party getting the first opportunity to form a government in a hung House. They say that though BJP got more seats, the Congress drew more percentage of votes. It, indeed, is a strong argument. However, the problem with this is that governments in democracies like India, the United Kingdom and the United States are based on the number of seats, not the percentage of votes. Had this been the case, independent India never would have a Congress-government at the centre (or for that matter a BJP government). Never in its parliamentary history, has India had a ruling party that got more popular votes than the combined opposition votes. The Modi-led NDA government in 2014 had got 38.14 percent popular votes (BJP on its own had got around 32 percent). The previous UPA government in 2009 had only 28.55 percent of popular votes.
In fact, these analysts and commentators lose their credibility when they selectively quote the percentage of votes polled to determine the popularity of a party. That BJP had only about 32 percent votes in 2014 has been highlighted by them, though they kept mum when the Congress in 2009 did not have even 25 percent votes to lead the Government of India. Or for that matter take the case of the latest assembly elections in Gujarat. When the ruling BJP lost 16 seats and came down to 99 in the present Gujarat Assembly, these very analysts and commentators were at the forefront in terming it as Modi’s defeat in reality(even though the BJP retained the government for the fifth consecutive term) and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s spectacular performance. They never bothered to point out that in terms of percentage of popular votes; the BJP increased its share up to 49. 1 percent as against Congress’s 41.4 percent. The point is: why are you not applying a uniform yardstick in explaining election-results? Not doing that is actually immorality.
That being the case, let us come down to see what actually happened in Karnataka. From having 40 seats in the last Assembly, the BJP went up to have 104 this time, just eight short of the majority mark in the assembly of 222 ( elections are to be held in two more seats). On the other hand, the Congress strength came down to 78 from 122. And here, the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah lost in one constituency and barely managed to win the other (he had contested from two seats). More interestingly, he was defeated by a candidate of the JD(S). On the other hand, the JD(S), which had 40 seats in the last Assembly, came down to have 37 this time. And now these two parties have joined hands to form a government by saying that the popular mandate was for them and against the BJP.
I, or for that matter any dispassionate person, will find it difficult to term this post-poll alliance “moral” and “popular”. In fact, a Facebook post by a friend of mine was quite instructive on this. He wrote how by getting 38 marks, JD (S) got the first rank(chief ministership); with 78 marks Congress achieved the second rank; but with 104 marks the BJP remained on the third position!
Under these circumstances, I find it a mockery on the part of those who blindly supported the Congress party spokespersons in demonising the Governor of Karnataka for giving the first opportunity to the BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa to form the government. True, the matter was taken the Supreme Court in midnight; but the fact remains that the Court refused to stay his swearing in. Nor did it take the governor to task for inviting the single largest party. It only reduced the time period for proving the majority on the floor of the House (something which has been done many a time in the past by the Court in similar cases). In fact, the Governor gave the same time period of 15 days to JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy to prove his majority later; but nobody is talking of that. That he proved it in three days (on Friday) is a different matter.
In my considered view, the Governor did the right thing by giving Yeddyurappa the first chance. Let us remember the famous Sarkaria Commission report, which our Supreme Court has referred to in many cases of the hung-verdict. The Commission had clearly recommended the following to a Governor (or the President in the event of national elections) in inviting someone to form a government in the situation where no single party has obtained an absolute majority:
The “order of preference” for the Governor in such case is
(1) An alliance of parties that was formed prior to the elections.
(2) The single largest party staking a claim to form the government with the support of others, including independents.
(3) A post-electoral coalition of parties, with all the partners in the coalition joining the government.
(4) A post-electoral alliance of parties, with some of the parties in the alliance forming a government and the remaining parties, including independents, supporting the government from outside.
As the alliance of the Congress and JD(S) was not a pre-poll alliance, the Governor had to go for the second preference. Here, to say that giving the BJP the first chance was most immoral as it gave the party a license to indulge in horse trading or poaching of MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) is ridiculous. Because, as, and here I am quoting another Facebook post from another friend, “If BJP seeks the support of 10 or 11 MLAs it is horse trading; but if congress buys the whole of JDs by offering the CM post and 17 ministries, it is called Democracy”. I think my friend was spot on. I will only add that if the Congress and JD(S) parties believe in morality, what was the need to keep their MLAs in virtual captivity for more than a week? Does the Congress or JD(S) give tickets to morally fragile candidates who can be bought over easily?
So, please let us not talk about morality, my dear big analysts and commentators. Your credibility is at stake.
By Prakash Nanda