Amit Shah does not take kindly to losing. The Bharatiya Janata Party president gave a press conference on Monday in which he called the coalition between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka an “unholy alliance”. Shah’s party saw euphoria turn into desperation last week, after the BJP won the highest number of seats in the Assembly elections, but failed to secure a clear path to a majority after the two other major parties settled on a post-poll coalition. The BJP tried to come to power regardless, only to see its bid fall flat on Saturday, forcing BS Yeddyurappa to resign as Karnataka chief minister after less than three days at the helm.

Shah, however, is unwilling to accept that this counts as a BJP loss. “Only Congress and JD(S) are celebrating, people of Karnataka are not,” he said at the press conference. “Congress crossed all limits in Karnataka elections. JD(S) formed an alliance with Congress against the people’s mandate. This is an unholy alliance.”

He also tried to explain why the BJP decided to stake a claim to form the government, despite not having a path to the majority unless it engineered defections from other parties. “If we had not staked claim to form government, it would have been against the mandate of Karnataka’s people,” he said.

Double standards

The double standards here are fairly blatant. In this case, Shah seems to acknowledge that the party with the most number of seats automatically is bestowed the mandate of the people. Yet he did not seem to be concerned about the same mandate in Goa or Manipur, two states where the Congress actually got more seats than the BJP, but the saffron party formed the government.

Shah did try to explain it, saying the “Congress hadn’t staked claim as the single-largest party in these states. We did, and the governor had no option.” But of course, that seems to suggest that the “people’s mandate” only matters if you act on it fast enough. Wait a day or so, as happened in Goa, and someone else can not only assert their right on government with the same authority, they can even argue that the governor had no option.

Beyond Goa and Manipur there are even more egregious examples that display the hollowness of Shah’s words.

One is the BJP’s government in Jammu and Kashmir, which was a post-poll alliance between the saffron party and the People’s Democratic Party, an outfit that in general had a reputation of being soft on extremism. If the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) is a combination of parties that were otherwise opposed to each other, then a BJP- People’s Democratic Party one makes even less sense.

The other is the BJP-Janata Dal (United) government in Bihar. There, the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal explicitly campaigned on a common platform to keep the BJP out, and ended up jointly winning far more seats than the BJP’s alliance in the state. Moreover, the Rashtriya Janata Dal actually ended up as the single-largest party in the Assembly. Yet, when the Janata Dal (United) decided to split with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, there was no question of a “people’s mandate” or which parties deserved the first shot at power.

56-hour chief minister

In some ways, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) should be pleased that the BJP was given a chance to form the government first, albeit with a shorter deadline than the one the Karnataka governor had set. As the single-largest party, the BJP was always going to insist it should be in power, even if the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress combine had more seats. And if it had not been invited to form the government, which would have been following the Goa-Manipur precedent, it could have argued to the people of Karnataka that it had been cheated out of power.

Instead, we got a two-and-a-half day Yeddyurappa government, followed by a resignation, with the BJP unable to muster the numbers. Now the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress combine can legitimately claim that it deserves to be in power, since the party that won the most seats got an opportunity to form government and failed.

Shah made an even more telling remark on Monday.

Considering the nature of that remark, and Shah’s reputation as a no-holds barred electoral strategist, one can only imagine what he is implying here. Though the BJP president made the comment while somehow trying to claim that the Congress was being corrupt by herding its MLAs into hotels, one can only wonder what the Supreme Court judges who mandated a quick trust vote – instead of the 15 days first given to the BJP by the governor – would think about Shah promising a certain kind of government for Karnataka, if only things had gone differently.