Wrong call

Ending almost two days of suspense, Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala has decided to invite Bharatiya Janata Party leader B S Yeddyurappa to form the next government in the state, and has given him 15 days to prove majority in the Assembly. The decision, which came late Wednesday evening, fails the test of propriety as there is no evidence to suggest that the BJP, which fell short of the halfway mark, provided any list to the Governor that proves its majority in the Assembly. Mr Vala should have first satisfied himself about a stable government; in the absence of that, the Opposition will be right in claiming that it is an open invitation to poaching. 

What compounds the BJP’s problems is that a total of 117 seats went to the other principal parties, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), leaving just one Independent, who too showed signs of tilting towards the newly minted Congress-JD(S) post-poll alliance. It is also not clear how the BJP will be able to cobble up the remaining seats it requires to reach the majority mark. The central point is that the BJP will find it impossible to form a stable majority without poaching a large chunk of MLAs from either party in order to avoid the anti-defection law. In any case, attempts to engineer such large-scale defections from either of the two parties will trigger allegations of horse-trading, as they did in 2008 when the BJP was three short of the halfway mark and was accused of poaching MLAs.

To be sure, Mr Vala was clearly in an unenviable position as neither the Constitution nor the relevant laws helped him on how to choose between the single largest party and the largest post-poll grouping. But in deciding to invite the BJP, Mr Vala has gone against the recent convention in such cases. In the three recent instances of Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, the largest post-poll grouping was called to prove its majority on the floor of the Assembly. After the Goa Governor decided to invite the BJP to form a government, the apex court had observed that “the holding of the floor test would remove all possible ambiguities, and would result in giving the democratic process the required credibility”.

The unfortunate part is that none of the political parties has covered itself in glory over the past two days. Most of Wednesday saw political leaders trading vicious charges against each other and resorting to open jockeying for power. H D Kumaraswamy, the head of the JD(S) and one of the contenders for the chief ministerial office, claimed that the BJP was luring his party MLAs by promising Rs 1 billion each. The Congress threatened that it would move the Supreme Court on Thursday if the alliance was not invited to form the government. The situation can only get uglier over the next few days. 

Politics apart, the new government will have its hands full. It has to address the deep and widespread rural distress caused by water shortages, poor agricultural infrastructure and lack of jobs, among other things. Short-term measures such as loan waivers can hardly provide a solution to the problem. The worsening infrastructure of Bengaluru, headquarters of India’s information technology industry, also requires a much bigger investment in its basic amenities as it is home to a population of nearly 12 million.

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