Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Karnataka election - a contest that no political party won

(This post has multiple updates at the end, added on May 16, 17, 18, 19)

In any democracy, the most exciting part is the elections, and the announcement of the results.

Virtually the whole of yesterday, I spent tracking – on television and social media – the results of the election to the State Assembly in my State, Karnataka.

Most of the exit polls on the day of polling, on May 12, had predicted a hung Assembly (a House in which no single party gets a majority). And true to that, the election produced no winner yesterday.

The BJP, which was steadily picking up seats at the start of counting, finally stopped its march at 104 (112 is what the winner should get). Its tally however had improved substantially from 40, what it had got in the previous election five years ago.

The Congress, the party of the outgoing government, ended up in the 2nd place, with its tally down from 122 to 78.

The JD(S), a local party, came in third, with its tally down by two: 38 this time, against 40 five years ago.

Instability ahead

Elections around the world throw up such verdicts. And, what follows is usually a period when parties try to strike deals with one another to cobble the required numbers. (Just to cite a recent example, Germany got a government only last month, six months after elections.)

Here in Karnataka, there is a very interesting situation.

In the seats tally, the top spot is for the BJP which doesn't have the majority: they are 8 short. But the No 2 and the No 3 combined (an alliance that was formed by two parties that were opposing each other till yesterday) have a majority.

Why this is controversial

In such situations, it is not very clear in India's Constitution, whether the governor (the head of state) should call the single largest party or the single largest coalition (that too a post-poll alliance in this case) to explore the possibility of forming a government.

If the alliance was a pre-poll one, there would have been no controversy. The alliance would have emerged winner and formed the government.

If one were to look at precedents, there have been cases of both.

Those who are interested can read the following links:

Karnataka election results: For governor, no scripted path, only precedents and conventions (Hindustan Times)

With no clear rules for Governors in hung verdict, BJP & Congress cite precedents that suit them best (The Economic Times)

Karnataka election results: It's now over to governor's 'subjective judgment' (The Times of India)

Anyway, the quick alliance between two parties (the Congress and the JDS) that were till yesterday hurling barbs against each other, generated lots of mirth, with memes and jokes flooding social media platforms.

Who should be invited

Someone has to be invited to form a government. Right now, both the BJP (the winner) and alliance of Congress and JDS (the runners-up) are staking claim to form the government.

Logically looking at it, the mandate evidently was for the BJP. And my personal opinion is that it must be given the first shot at forming a viable government, and given not more than two days to prove their numbers in the Assembly.

If they fail, the let the post-poll coalition can be given the chance, and given not more than two days to prove their strength. This looks the most fair way.

Though the runners-up seem to have the numbers, as they claim, my objection to them being called in first is: one, they didn't contest polls jointly. So, their alliance, in order to claim the mandate, is not fair. Two, going by the sheer number of seats Congress and JDS got, they are way behind the BJP.


2130 hours: Governor invites BJP's Legislative Leader B S Yeddyurappa to form a government; and gives him 15 days to prove majority in the Assembly. Swearing in tomorrow at 9 am.

That is too long a time. If not two days, which I think is ideal, it shouldn't have been more than five or seven days.

2200 hours: The Congress has approached Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Deepak Misra to hold an urgent hearing in the night and cancel tomorrow's swearing-in.

2300 hours: Supreme Court admits Congress and JDS petitions.

May 17

0015 hours: Chief Justice decides that a three-judge bench will hear the petitions at 1.45 am. Only once before the Supreme Court has had such a midnight hearing: on a petition challenging the death sentence to Yakhub Memon.

0200 hours: Supreme Court begins hearing the case.

0400 hours: It's two hours. Arguments still on.

0430 hours: Supreme Court says it is not inclined to stay the swearing in of the new government. But arguments on other aspects raised by the petitions are still on. The court says that its observation is subject to the outcome of the petition. Which means, the swearing-in is only an interim measure.

0900 hours: Yeddyurappa sworn in as chief minister. No ministers. Opposition Congress and JDS are protesting outside the Vidhana Soudha (the central government office complex).

May 18

1130 hours: Supreme Court resumed the hearing, from where it left off in the wee hours of yesterday. It ordered the day-old Chief Minister Yeddyurappa to prove his majority in the Assembly at 4 pm tomorrow.
Now speculation as to how he and his party, which has only 104 lawmakers, will cobble the magic figure of 112.

1600 hours: Now a fresh controversy. The governor, Vajubhai Vala (who is a political appointee of the federal government, which is ruled by the BJP) appointed a lawmaker of BJP, K G Boppaiah as pro tem Speaker. By convention the government recommends the seniormost lawmaker to the governor to be appointed as the pro tem Speaker, who will conduct the initial process of constituting the new Assembly, administering the oath to the new lawmakers etc.
But the controversy is that the the long-standing convention of having the senior-most lawmaker as the pro tem Speaker. Now Congress-JDS is objecting to it, on two counts. One, that Boppaiah was partisan towards BJP once when he was the pro tem Speaker. Two, many senior MLAs were bypassed. They are even planning to move the Supreme Court.

2000 hours: The Supreme Court says that the petition challenging the appointment of Boppaiah as the pro tem speaker will be taken up for hearing tomorrow at 10.30 am.

May 19

1145 hours: The Supreme Court dismissed the Congress-JDS plea against Boppaiah. The court said, one, there have been instances in the past of lawmakers, not the senior-most, being appointed as the pro tem speaker. Two, if the petitioner wants Boppaiah's suitability to be considered then he too will have to be issued notice, and the assembly session and trust vote will have to be postponed, which the court implicitly wasn't in favour of.

1430 hours:  Rumours flying thick and fast that Yeddyurappa is considering resigning after making a speech, since he hasn't been able to cobble up the required number. There was no provision for making a speech in the original agenda. But it looks like that it's been made.

1630 hours: Yeddyurappa makes an emotional speech, saying till his last breath he would fight for the welfare of the people of the state; and that he and his party will come back with big majority next time round. And, he says that he is tending his resignation.
One chapter in the whole saga has now ended.

2000 hours: H D Kumaraswamy invited to form the government. The day of swearing in still not known.


  1. Very interesting and informative blog post. The BJP was not in favor of giving the first shot at forming a viable government to the single largest party in Goa. And, in Karnataka they want the first shot. Congress would do anything to stop the BJP. They (with 78 seats) will give unconditional support to JDS (with 38 seats only). Politicians have no scruples.

  2. The Constitution empowers the governor to appoint a chief minister. But it does not spell out who to be invited in case of a hung assembly. I personally prefer the single largest party be given the first chance.

    1. SG, I hope you have got to know about the midnight drama in Supreme Court. It's nearly 4 am and I am watching live coverage on TV. Time-wise it is easy for you to watch.
      Very interesting arguments in the court.
      Awaiting the verdict.
      Just imagine it is just a few hours for swearing in.

    2. Yes Pradeep. Since it is day time here, I watching the minute by minute live update. I am a news junkie. HaHaHa.

    3. sorry for the typo. It should have been "I am watching".

    4. I doubt the drama would any time soon. Now there is a new row over the appointment of K S Boppaiah as the pro tem speaker.

  3. Wow, this is interesting. I hope they figure it all out.

    1. Yes, Liz. This is a problem many free and democratic nations face, when people are divided in their choice.
      I am sure a way will be found, in a few days in a peaceful manner, which will be accepted by everyone.

  4. I have some view but would wait to know SC’s ruling on the issue.

    1. The Supreme Court verdict was out this morning. That BJP should prove the majority in the Assembly at 4 pm tomorrow.

  5. I have a feeling this Kumaraswamy government will collapse within a year.

    1. Very much a possibility. Their only motivation is to keep the BJP out.

      Congress and JDS fought the elections against each other. There was a suggestion that they could be allies for the polls, but their leaders won't agree, because they were super confident that they would get majority. Now, see what happened.

  6. Just one last comment. I was not aware which news media favors which political party until now. Interesting to read the news media. Hindustan Times said Congress-JDS withdrew their petition in the Supreme Court for removing the pro tem speaker. NDTV said the judges rejected the Congress-JDS petition to remove the pro tem speaker.

    1. All news media, around the world, tend to have their priorities when covering news. But this particular point, doesn't seem to be anything related to their priorities. I guess, it is just a different way of looking at the same development.