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Two-day Wonder In Karnataka

Two-day Wonder In Karnataka

Ambition is fine but over-ambition is dangerous. This is very clear from what happened to the BJP in Karnataka where its two-day wonder chief minister B. S. Yeddyurappa was forced to resign on May 19. The party thought that it would have its own way, as it had an RSS man in the Raj Bhavan and its own government at the Centre. One thing it forgot was that other political parties could also learn from their own past mistakes and rise to the occasion.

It was the Congress decision, attributed to Sonia Gandhi, to declare its support to a government formed by the JD (S) which suddenly tilted the balance against the BJP. The combined strength of the Congress and the JD (S) was enough to form a strong, stable government in the state.

The governor should have realised that he had a duty to give the alliance a chance, particularly when the BJP, which had only 104 members, could not give the names of any non-BJP MLAs ready to support the government. The party thought that it could repeat what it did in Goa, Meghalaya and Manipur, where they formed governments, although the BJP was not the single largest party.

Yeddiyurappa thought that one week was sufficient to pay money and posts to some JD(S) and Congress members to support the government. The Governor knew the business better and that is why he gave a fortnight to the Chief Minister to cobble together a majority. I still remember some BJP leaders claiming that it was the smartness of the party that it could form a government in Goa although it had lost the elections.

The emotional speech Yeddyurappa made in the Vidhan Sabha was an exercise in futility as nobody in Karnataka wanted a hotchpotch government formed through what is known as horse-trading. Even the appointment of KG Bopiah as the  pro-tem  speaker was against all legislative norms and practices. Pro-tem speaker’s job is only to administer the oath of office to the newly elected legislators and to conduct the election for the post of Speaker. It is always the senior-most member who is chosen as the  pro-tem  speaker.

But the chief minister could not trust the nine-term Congress MLA as the  pro-tem  speaker. That is why Bopiah was chosen for the post, although he was just a three-term member. He had in the past taken some controversial decisions which had to be annulled by the Supreme Court. The party thought that his services might be necessary to circumvent the problem of lack of adequate support in the House. Alas, neither Governor Vajubhai Vala and Yeddyurappa took into account that their decisions could easily be challenged in the Supreme Court.

And that is what happened. The Supreme Court came to the rescue of democracy when it intervened and cut short the time given to Yeddyurappa to prove his majority. The moment the Court gave this decision asking the Chief Minister to prove his majority on the floor of the House in less than a day, it was obvious that the game was up for him.

Instead of accepting the reality and resigning on his own, Yeddyurappa and Co. did everything possible to shore up support for the government. The telephone conversations the Reddy brothers had with some Congress MLAs that are in the public domain suggest that the party would have gone to any extent to please the MLAs and thereby secure their support. 

Of course, any Congress or JD (S) legislator who voted for the BJP would have attracted the provisions of the anti-defection law. As the conversations show, they would have been compensated for the loss. “They would get 100 times of their assets”!

The hardcore BJP supporters might be disappointed with the turn of events in the state but they cannot claim the moral high ground. In retrospect, the party should have allowed the JD (S)-Congress alliance to form the government. With its 104 MLAs, the BJP could have kept the government on tenterhooks. More important, it could  have regained the credibility it lost in Goa. The argument that the voters of Karnataka favoured the party is not true.

If the BJP which lost the elections in Goa could rule, surely nothing prevented the JD (S) and the Congress from coming together to defeat the BJP. Take the case of Bihar. There, the mandate given to the BJP was to sit in the Opposition. But today it is in power in collaboration with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal which would not have won so many seats if Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress were not part of the Great Alliance formed to defeat the BJP.

Politics is the art of the possible. The Congress and the JD (S) have proved that they took their cue from the conduct of the BJP in Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Bihar. There is no guarantee that the Congress-JD (S) government will be stable. The BJP will still be able to cash in on the differences that might crop up between the two parties once they form the government. What happened in the state is a clear warning to all the anti-BJP forces that if they do not want a repeat of the 2014 results, they should come together and fight the party.

The recent by-election results in UP, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are a clear indication that if the non-BJP parties come together, Modi would be reduced to what he was, a bit player in the BJP, till he found a mine of opportunities in the killing of karsevaks at Godhra!

At the root of the problem in Karnataka was the first-past-the-post voting method, adopted by the founding fathers of the Constitution. For instance, if there are a total of 100,000 votes and there are 20 candidates out of which one got 5001 votes, 18 got 5000 votes each and another got 4999 votes, the one who got 5001 would be declared the winner, although the fact remains that 94,999 voters rejected him. That is how the “winner takes all” phrase came into being in the English language.

In the apocryphal election I mentioned above, the victor got just one extra vote. Now consider the 2014 election in which the BJP under Narendra Modi won 282 seats in the Lok Sabha. It was an outstanding victory but the fact remains that the party registered a vote share of only 31 per cent. In other words, 69 per cent of the voters voted for non-BJP parties or candidates.

No, it was not the first time that a party won the election in this manner. Since the first election in 1952, no political party won over 50 per cent votes. Even in the 1984 election in which the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi won a spectacular victory, the party’s vote share did not cross the 50 per cent mark. To make fun of Modi’s 31 per cent is to ridicule the whole voting system.

It was, therefore, not very surprising that the Congress won 700,000 more votes than the BJP, which got 104 seats against the 78 seats the Congress won. Wishes are never horses in elections. Even so if the Janata Dal (Secular), which won 37 seats, and the Congress and the BSP, which won one seat, had jointly contested the election, they would have swept the poll.

True, the Congress could not win the election. Its decision to give a separate religious status to the Lingayats seems to have boomeranged. The anti-incumbency factor also played its role. The BJP’s electioneering was comparable only to the Blitzkrieg London experienced during the Second World War. Now what is Blitzkrieg? Tactically,  it  is a coordinated military effort by tanks, motorised infantry, artillery and aircraft, to create an overwhelming local superiority in combat power, to defeat the opponent and break through its defences.

The BJP used both money and muscle to win the election, cashing in on the general trend of the voters wanting a change in the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself addressed as many as 21 mega rallies covering almost all the regions, big and small, of the state. His party chief Amit Shah, not to mention other national leaders of the party, also addressed several rallies.

At no time did a Prime Minister stoop so low as Modi stooped this time. He tried to whip up passions against the Congress by telling lies. He raised issues that had no relevance to the voters. How did it matter to them that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru insulted General Thimmayya and Field Marshal Cariappa? The fact remains that both were revered by Nehru and his successors. Cariappa was, in fact, given the rank of Field Marshal long after his retirement.

The first to get the rank of Field Marshal was SHFJ Manekshaw, who preferred to settle down in Karnataka, though he was born in the undivided Punjab. Modi asked silly questions like whether anyone from the Congress family, meaning Nehru family, visited “Veer Savarkar” in the Andamans Jail or Bhagat Singh before he was hanged to death. He could have, instead, told the voters whether any of the RSS leaders like Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar had visited them. Also, whether it was after consulting the RSS leaders that Savarkar had sought clemency from the British.

This was despite the fact that Nehru had visited Bhagat Singh in the jail and praised his patriotism even while expressing his difference of opinion about the methods he adopted to win freedom. Come to think of it, Modi is the only prime minister who authored a book on how students should appear for examinations. What a tragedy that such a person had no qualms of conscience in telling lies.

It was in this context that the election results in Karnataka should have been seen. It was not the first time that elections threw up a hung Assembly. Take the case of Goa which was ruled by the BJP. In the February 2017 elections, eight of its sitting MLAs lost the elections. The party won only 13 seats out of the total of 40. The Congress improved its position by winning eight more seats to emerge as the single largest party with 17 seats.

Overnight, the BJP formed a post-poll alliance with some small parties and staked its claim to form the government. And to provide leadership to the new government, then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar quit the Modi cabinet and rushed to Panaji. He was sworn in as Chief Minister. Of course, he managed to prove his majority.

The Congress did the same thing. It formed a post-poll alliance with the JD (S) and staked its claim to form the government. The party unilaterally announced that it would support the leader of the JD (S) to form the government. Together the party had a strength of 117, which is five members more than the required strength.

In Meghalaya, the BJP could get only two seats, earning the nickname of a scooter party. The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 21 seats out of the 59 seats for which elections were held early this year. Yet, it was not given a chance to form the government on the plea that the post-poll alliance the BJP formed had greater strength. In Manipur, too, the same practice was followed.

Alas, the Karnataka Governor, who once resigned his seat in favour of Narendra Modi, decided to invite Yeddurappa to form the government. What’s worse, he granted him 15 days’ time to prove his majority on the floor of the House from the day he would be sworn in. Interestingly, Yeddyurappa had sought only one week to prove his majority.

It was obvious that the Governor wanted to prove that he was more loyal than the King. He did this overlooking the claim of JD(S) leader H. D. Kumaraswamy, who gave the list of 117 MLAs supporting him. Apparently, the BJP did not want to give the Congress-JD (S) alliance a chance. Within minutes of being sworn in, Yeddyurappa announced his decision to write off farmers’ arrears. 

In India, we follow the Cabinet system of government. Since, he did not have any other minister to constitute the Cabinet, he had no right to take policy decisions.  It was under these circumstances that the Congress approached the Supreme Court questioning the decisions of the Governor. 

Ideally, the court should not interfere in the decisions of the Governor but, then, the Governor should also behave like a Constitutional authority, not a party worker. Vala considers himself an RSS worker, not a Governor. That is why he considered it his bounden duty to facilitate the formation of a BJP government even if it did not have either majority or mandate.

The other day I was shocked to see a video which depicted the Governor stepping into a hall and walking all the way to the podium when everyone was in attention as the national anthem was being played. Had a student done this, he would have been punished by the school authorities. Here, the guilty person was the Governor. He might even ask what national anthem because the RSS did not consider Rabindranath Tagore’s composition as worthy of the status of the national anthem.

Vala had only himself to blame when a three-member bench of the Supreme Court ordered the Chief Minister not to take any policy decision and asked him to prove his majority on the floor of the House. It is too much to expect him to resign but he has in his over-enthusiasm to please his bosses in New Delhi caused irreparable loss to the credibility of the post which he holds.  Yatha Prime Minister thatha Governor! (Like Prime Minister like Governor!)


(Published on 21st May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 21)