Karnataka: Death of democracy

Last Updated: Fri, May 18, 2018 21:04 hrs
Karnataka elections 2018

Nothing is a greater reflection of the public's disillusionment than a hung assembly.

The fact that five states have gone to elections over the last couple of years, yielding results where no party has managed to secure a clear majority is indication of the lack of faith people have in their leadership, particularly in the Congress and the BJP.

The strategies both parties have followed post the polls, in turn, show the scant regard they have for the mandate of the people.

The Congress, having lost all steam in the lead-up to the Karnataka elections, and then lost face in the election itself, tried to pull off the dirty trick the BJP has in Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya –- cobbling together an alliance in the eleventh, or thirteenth, hour, to form a minority government.

Perhaps deservedly, the Congress' strategy has failed in Karnataka.

The Karnataka governor, Vajubhai Vala, a former member of the BJP, invited B S Yeddyurappa to take oath as chief minister and prove his majority in the assembly within 15 days.

This has left the Congress furious because they have a clear majority after forming a post-poll alliance with the JD(S).

Has the governor been impartial?

The recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission on the selection of a chief minister say the governor should be guided first by the principle that the party or combination of parties which commands the widest support in the legislative assembly should be called upon to form the government. This would be the Congress-JD(S) combine.

In the case that no party commands absolute majority, the governor should select a chief minister, first from a pre-poll alliance of parties if formed; second, from the single largest party staking a claim to form government with the support of other parties or independents; third, a post-poll alliance of parties.

It would seem at first glance that the governor followed these guidelines in choosing Yeddyurappa. But the problem is that the BJP did not have support of others, including independent candidates, at the time the governor made his choice. Under such circumstances, the third option ought to have been exercised.

The guidelines state explicitly that the governor's task is "to see that a government is formed and not to try to form a government which will pursue policies which he approves".

With the governor of Karnataka having made his choice, other parties including the Congress and the RJD are clamouring retroactively for a change in government in the other four states that turned up a hung verdict at elections.

The Congress had emerged as the single largest party in Goa last year, but was not invited to form government. Now, its 16 lawmakers in the state plan to march to Governor Mridula Sinha's house to belatedly stake their claim.

The chief ministers of Manipur and Meghalaya intend to meet their respective governors, more than a year after the elections in their states, to discuss the options.

The BJP has pointed out that the Congress has woken up "500 days late".

The point is a valid one. The Congress went to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision made by the governor of Goa, but could not get the decision reversed. It failed to form a post-poll alliance despite being just three seats short of absolute majority in Meghalaya.

When it seemed it had learnt something from its arch rival, and managed to defeat the latter at its own game in Karnataka, the governor stood in its way and invited the BJP to form government despite the latter being eight seats short of absolute majority.

As the parties accuse each other of cheating and "betraying the people's mandate", seemingly oblivious to the proverb about glass houses and stones, we are left to ponder the meaning of democracy – does the will of the people count, if the result is going to be derived from last-minute opportunism and the infamous practice of “horse-trading”?

Perhaps the first thing we should acknowledge is that in Indian politics, both national and regional, democracy is well and truly dead.

Several states are currently being ruled by leaders who were not elected.

The BJP is so high on confidence that it has managed to power its way to the ruling seats in four states where it did not secure the people's mandate.

Under such circumstances, what promise does 2019 hold?

We have a choice between a prime minister who talks non-stop but never listens, and a prospective prime minister who has inherited the leadership of his party through his bloodline.

Even if the general elections were to turn up a hung verdict, there is no guarantee that the people's mandate will be respected.

When choice is dead, democracy is dead.

And so, in our eighth decade since independence, we must mourn the death of democracy.



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