The Big Story: Karnataka capers

On Friday, as the Karnataka verdict turns into dark comedy, the Supreme Court will consider two letters written by Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Part to Governor Vajubhai Vala laying claim to government. The question it will really consider is this: did Vala act with mala fide intent when he invited the BJP to form government, even though the party fell short of a majority with just 104 seats while the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) combine claimed to have 117? The most compelling argument for this seems to be the 15 days given to Yeddyurappa to prove his majority on the floor of the House. On the face of it, this seems to be an open invitation to horse trading. It has given rise to the ludicrous spectacle of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) speeding their legislators off in a bus to Kochi to keep their flock intact and the freshly minted chief minister using his powers to remove police cover from the Bengaluru resort where they were initially holed up.

The Supreme Court refused to stay Yeddyurappa’s swearing-in even as it heard the petition filed by the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) challenging the governor’s decision in a dramatic late night session Wednesday. Vala’s choice has been described by the Opposition as arbitrary, partisan and biased. His political past as a member of the BJP, a worker for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a close aide to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat has been held up to support this claim. But, given the powers of discretion accorded to the governor under Article 361 and the absence of clear guidelines on how he should act in such a situation, it is hard to pin down bias merely because of the party he chose to form government. In the past few days, the BJP has rediscovered the Supreme Court’s Bommai judgment, which leaves it to the governor to “invite the leader of the party commanding majority in the House or the single largest party/group to form the government” in a post-poll situation.

While the BJP was single-largest party, the Congress-JD(S) alliance presented the largest group. It has been pointed out that, in the absence of a floor test, there is no way for the governor to ascertain who will be able to provide the most stable government. But why give the government 15 days when even Yeddyurappa asked for just seven? Even if legislators need time to be transported back from far-flung constituencies, this is a generous time limit. The Congress has 78 legislators and the JD(S) 37; the BJP needs seven to reach a majority. Unless the JD(S) changes allegiances en masse, individual legislators will have to be picked off from the alliance. Under the anti-defection law, they will be disqualified, which could work to the BJP’s advantage in the floor test. In the 15 days leading up to the test, then, the BJP is expected to tempt, cajole, corral and threaten Opposition legislators into defecting. It should be noted that, on the day the governor invited the BJP to form government, the JD(S) claimed its legislators were offered sums the size of budgetary allocations to switch sides.

So India is witnessing the absurd drama of “resort politics”, where legislators are virtually held captive in scenic locales to keep them away from the lures of a rival party. It has become the norm now for elected representatives to be treated like pawns in a game, whose loyalties may be bought and sold. Meanwhile, the results of older elections, in Goa and Manipur, where the single-largest party never got a chance to form government, are now being questioned. In the sound and fury surrounding Karnataka, something is quietly crumbling away: public faith in the democratic system.

The Big Scroll

Alok Prasanna Kumar explains what happens next in Karnataka.

Sruthisagar Yamunan explains why the Supreme Court needed to step in.


  1. In the Indian Express, MM Ansari argues that goodwill gestures like the unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir work only if all stakeholders are engaged.
  2. In the Hindu, Gopalkrishna Gandhi comments that Karnataka shows how parties must form pre-poll alliances if they hope to defeat the BJP.
  3. As admissions season opens, Anup Sinha writes in the Telegraph that rankings do nothing to improve the quality of education offered by a college.


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