Congress must blame itself for losing Manipur and Goa. Governors are on point
While BJP ponders over its moral corrosion, Rahul Gandhi's party needs to take a hard look at its strategy.
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The Congress is accusing the BJP of stealing elections in Goa and Manipur.
According to the grand old party, since the BJP is the second largest party, it has "no right" to form the government.
Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram tweeted:
A party that comes second has no right to form the Government. BJP stealing elections in Goa and Manipur.— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) March 13, 2017
In the recently-held Assembly elections in Goa, BJP bagged 13 seats, while the Congress was the largest party - bagging 17 seats.
Despite the Congress emerging as the largest party, the governor invited Manohar Parrikar to form the government after he claimed he had the support of three MLAs each of Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Goa Forward Party, and two Independent MLAs'.
Remember that MGP had ended its five-year-old alliance with the BJP and joined hands with RSS rebel Subhash Velingkar's Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) to contest the Assembly polls against the BJP.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh lamented that "Money Power has won over People's Power".
In elections to the 60 Assembly seats in Manipur, the Congress again emerged as the largest party by winning 28 seats, but the BJP, which came a close second with 21 seats, has claimed it has the largest coalition of 32 MLAs with the support of 4 MLAs each of the National People's Party (NPP) and the Naga People's Front (NPF), one Congress MLA who has defected to the BJP, one MLA from the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), and another from the Trinamool Congress.
Let us not forget the BJP contested the elections in Manipur without any pre-poll alliance.
One is compelled to ask: is the BJP simply hungry for power, wanting to form its government by resorting to saam daam dand bhed?
The Congress also claimed that despite being the largest party in Manipur, Goa governor Mridual Sinha refused to meet their delegation.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh says that the Congress party has been seeking an appointment with the governor since March 12, but was not given any.
He tweeted, "Today we sought appointment for 10.30 but she has given us time for 1.30." He questions her decision not to meet the Congress delegation, tweeting: "Is it Constitutional? Doesn't it violate the Sarkaria Commission guidelines? Is it Moral?"
In both states, the pattern is disturbingly similar: a hung Assembly where the Congress is the single largest party, but just short of majority, the BJP is a distant second, and smaller parties hold the key to government formation.
In both states, the governors are elderly BJP leaders and, in both states, the BJP has moved faster and with greater desire than the Congress to capture power.
For the BJP, it would have been prudent if they had led by the Delhi example, when the BJP - being the largest party - were called to form government but refused.
Consequently, AAP was invited so the AAP-Congress coalition formed the government.
Supreme Court slams Congress
The Supreme Court on March 15 turned down Congress' plea against the governor's decision to invite the BJP to form government.
It has, in fact, given Manohar Parrikar time till March 16 to prove his strength on the floor of the House.
The bench said that it cannot take away the governor's power to appoint a CM and also because the Congress had failed to show its majority.
It appears the Congress is crying hoarse. There was a hung Assembly, so obviously post-poll alliances will be formed.
The Congress has accused BJP of "stealing" the mandate in Goa.
It unsuccessfully petitioned before the SC. Hasn't it complained a bit much?
In Manipur, when the incumbent chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh met the governor, he showed the list of 28 Congress MLAs and claimed the support of National People's Party (NPP).
The governor, Najma Heptullah was not satisfied and said that it was only an "ordinary piece of paper" showing support of four MLAs of the NPP.
Later, NPP leader Conrad Sangma too called the letter of support shown by the Congress "fake". The Congress seemed to be beating around the bush.
The practice of calling the single largest party to form the government has gained ground as a tradition in India.
But contrary to popular perception, the governor doesn't have to call upon a party with the highest vote share first to try and form the government.
There are various instances that indicate otherwise:
BJP 30 JMM 17
Result: Shibu Soren (JMM) forms the coalition government with Congress
NC 28 PDP 15CONG 21
Result: PDP, Congress form government
BJP 31 AAP 28CONG 8
Result: AAP forms the government with Congress' support
BJP 79 CONG 65JD(S) 58
Result: Congress, JD (s) form the government
Past precedent on inviting the majority party to form govt
The Constitution does not have clear guidelines on who the President at the Centre or the Governor in a state must invite to form the government in the event of a hung House, making it a tricky affair.
Former President R Venkataraman had set a precedent by inviting the Congress - the single largest party after the 1989 elections - to form the government on two occasions before inviting Janata Dal leader VP Singh and, when his government subsequently fell, Samajwadi Janata Party's Chandra Shekhar to form the government.
Only when Rajiv Gandhi rejected the offer twice did Venkataraman invite VP Singh and Chandrasekhar.
When President Shankar Dayal Sharma followed the precedent in 1996 by inviting Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government, the Congress and non-BJP leaders criticised him.
They said Sharma had not verified the numbers to ensure the stability of the government before inviting Vajpayee.
In March 1998, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA had emerged as the single-largest entity with 240 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
But Narayanan, a former Congress minister, delayed Vajpayee's swearing-in as prime minister.
In a communiqué issued on March 12, 1998, Narayanan said that when "no party or pre-election alliance of parties is in a clear majority, the head of State has, in India and elsewhere, given the first opportunity to the leader of the party or combination of parties that has won the largest number of seats".
The prime minister "so appointed", Narayanan said, has to prove his majority on the floor of the House "within a stipulated period of time".
He then went on to question the convention.
"This procedure is not, however, an all-time formula because situations can arise when MPs not belonging to the single largest party or combination can, as a collective entity, outnumber the 'single largest' claimant," the communiqué added.
It was only after the Congress and United Front leaders decided not to stake claim or offer a viable alternative to a BJP-led government that Narayanan invited Vajpayee to take oath - after Jayalalithaa faxed a letter of support, taking the NDA tally to 264 in the House of 539 MPs.
Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party, which had 12 MPs, also informed the President he would remain neutral, effectively reducing the strength of the House to 527 and bringing the majority mark down to 264 from 270.
Going by the precedence set by Narayanan, governors Najma Heptullah (Manipur) and Mridula Sinha (Goa) appear to be within their constitutional right not to invite the Congress, the single-largest party, but short of the majority mark in both states.
In September 1999, the Congress (75 MLAs) and the NCP (58), which had contested in the Maharashtra Assembly polls that election year, came together to edge out the Shiv Sena-BJP (125 MLAs), which had a pre-poll tie-up for the 288-member House.
In the 2004 Assembly polls in Karnataka, the ruling Congress (65 MLAs) had been voted out and the BJP emerged as the single-largest party with 79 seats in the 224-member House.
But the party formed the government with the help of the JDS, which had 58 MLAs.
Sarkaria Commission recommendations
The Sarkaria Commission recommended that in choosing a chief minister, the governor should be guided by the following principles:
a) The party or combination of parties which commands the widest support in the Legislative Assembly should be called upon to form the government.
b) The governor's task is to see that a government is formed and not to try to form a government that pursues policies which he approves.
c) If there is a single party having an absolute majority in the Assembly, the leader of the party should automatically be asked to become the chief minister.
d) If there is no such party, the governor should select a chief minister from among the following parties or groups of parties by sounding them, in turn, in the order of preference indicated below:
- The largest single party staking a claim to form the government with the support of others, including "independents".
- A post-electoral alliance of parties, with some of the parties in the alliance forming a government and the remaining parties, including "Independents" supporting the government from outside.
- The governor while going through the process described above should select a leader who in his/her (governor's) judgment is most likely to command a majority in the Assembly.
And in the SR Bommai case, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that a floor test was the only way to establish majority in the House.
It has been the convention to invite the leader of the single largest party or head of the pre-poll alliance with the requisite numbers to form the government and prove strength in the House.
There seems to be nothing wrong in Governor inviting the second largest party and its coalition partners in forming the government, but the manner and haste in which the BJP staked its claim to form the government in both the states - Goa and Manipur - reflects the party's desperation to assume power by hook or crook.
While the BJP ponders over its moral corrosion, the Congress needs to take a hard look at its strategy.
To me, it appears that on various counts, the grand old party lost the plot despite finishing first in the elections.
Congress' blunder: Couldn't decide on a CM
BJP's ace: Named Parrikar CM straightaway
Congress' blunder: NO OUTREACH TO SMALLER PARTIES
BJP's ace: Sealed deals with smaller parties
Congress' blunder: Didn't stake claim
BJP's ace: Staked claim immediately