In summarily ignoring the claim of H.D. Kumaraswamy, Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala abandoned both propriety and common sense, acting in a politically partisan manner unbecoming of his office. Mr. Kumaraswamy was elected leader of the Janata Dal (Secular) Legislature Party and, with the declared support of the Congress, had the backing of a majority in the newly elected Assembly. The leader of the BJP Legislature Party, B.S. Yeddyurappa, offered no demonstrable proof of majority, but was invited to form the government, and given all of 15 days to prove he had the confidence of the House, solely on the basis of being the leader of the single largest party. Far from ushering in a stable government, the Governor unbolted the doors to allow room for the BJP to try to engineer defections. In situations such as these, the Constitution allows an element of discretion to the Governor, but this power was never meant to be used arbitrarily and capriciously. In defence of the Governor’s action, BJP leaders have cited the Bommai judgment, which ruled on the course open for the Governor in the event of a Chief Minister losing majority in the House, but offered no opinion on a post-poll situation, where it said the Governor had to “invite the leader of the party commanding majority in the House or the single largest party/group to form the government.” Nothing in the judgment privileges the single largest party over the largest group when it comes to being given the first shot at forming a government.
The BJP leaders have now staked out positions that are at odds with those they adopted after the Assembly elections in Manipur and Goa, when the single largest party, the Congress, was denied a chance to form the government. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had a weak defence on this turnaround: the Congress, he claimed, had not staked a claim in those two States. The Congress has taken the fight to the Supreme Court, which has asked the Attorney General to produce the letters written by Mr. Yeddyurappa to the Governor in support of his claim. When the members of the Congress and the JD(S) together constitute a majority in the House, it is unclear what letters Mr. Yeddyurappa could have presented to the Governor. No matter how things turn out from here on, the BJP has emerged as a bad loser. The party played a smart hand in Goa and Manipur to deny the Congress, but is unable to accept defeat in Karnataka when beaten at its own game. Politics is not always about reaching for power; sometimes it is also about learning to sit in the Opposition. After all, power is only one of the means of politics, not one of its ends. The BJP may have bested the Congress in Karnataka, but it may not have paid the price for this victory yet.