In Karnataka, after falling short of the halfway mark, BJP faces the prospect of sitting in opposition

The BJP got a taste of its own medicine as the Congress-JD(S) cobbled up a quick post-election coalition of sorts to stake claim to form the next government in Karnataka. This is akin to what happened in Manipur, Meghalaya and Goa when the Congress and its allies fell short of numbers, and were caught unawares when the BJP made it past the post after taking on board splinter parties.

In Karnataka, after falling short of the halfway mark, the BJP faces the prospect of sitting in opposition after defeating the ruling Congress in the state by a big margin and emerging as the single largest party. Who should be sworn in, BS Yeddyurappa of the BJP or HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S)-Congress alliance is the moot question before governor Vaju Bhai Vala. His decision will be subject to close scrutiny in the emerging scenario. For the Congress party, it could be sweet revenge for what happened in Manipur, Meghalaya and Goa.

When people deliver hung verdicts, governors in states and the president at the centre go by conventions and precedents. However, similar situations do not always lead to similar decisions by them. For instance, presidents and governors have not always gone by the convention of first inviting the single largest party or a pre-poll alliance to prove its majority. So, governor Vaju Bhai Vala has a lot of elbowroom and flexibility to decide on who he should call to form the next government in Bangalore.

The governor will have to be all the more careful, as the aggrieved party is bound to move the Supreme Court seeking a review. Constitutional law experts also have serious work on hand. While the final call is being taken, the governor will have to keep an eagle eye on the possibility of horse trading and behind-the-scenes deals that may happen in the next few days. Hence, he will have to make up his mind quickly on the new government so that the people’s verdict is respected. The effort should contribute to putting a stable government in place for five years.

In 2002, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar joined hands in Maharashtra after the BJP-Shiv Sena fell short of numbers though the latter emerged as the single largest alliance. President KR Narayanan had invited then BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form a government only after having received letters of support from the majority of Lok Sabha members in 1999. On the contrary, his predecessor Shankar Dayal Sharma went strictly by the rulebook and the SR Bommai case ruling while inviting Vajpayee to form the government in 1996 after the BJP emerged as the single largest party without having a simple majority in the Lok Sabha.

On two earlier occasions, in 1989 and 1991, Sharma’s predecessor R. Venkataraman had invited the single largest party though it did not enjoy majority support of elected Lok Sabha members. But, both times there were very few rumbles of protest given that only one prime ministerial claimant each time, V.P. Singh in 1989 and PV Narasimha Rao in 1991 staked claim to form governments.

HD Deve Gowda, as leader of the third front, had also opposed the idea of inviting the single largest party leader to form the government. And, his son Kumaraswamy has all the reason now to form a pragmatic alliance with the Congress and run the state. If the government were to be formed, the Congress should join in to ensure stability.