OPINION

Stealing a mandate

BJP played by the book, but a new govt. will lack moral legitimacy without winning bypolls

The impending change of guard in Madhya Pradesh is on the back of a disgraceful betrayal of the popular mandate of 2018 when the Congress defeated the BJP that was in power for three consecutive terms. Jyotiraditya Scindia’s vault from the Congress to its antithesis, the BJP, set the ball rolling for the unravelling of Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s government earlier in March. With the resignation of 22 of its MLAs from the Assembly, the Congress was reduced to a minority, with 92 members. The resignations brought down the halfway mark to 104 and now, the BJP, with 106, can claim a majority as it is doing right now. The BJP legislature party is expected to elect former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as its leader who is likely to form the new government this week. Mr. Nath tried to salvage his government by buying time to woo back the defectors but the Supreme Court ordered that a floor test be held on Friday. His decision to submit the resignation before forcing a vote in the Assembly was appropriate. Luring back the defectors by dubious means would have been no less dishonourable than the defections. The total strength of the MP Assembly is 230 in which 24 seats are now vacant. Although the BJP is within its rights to stake claim, in the interest of moral and political legitimacy, it could have waited until after by-elections are held to these seats and either of the parties establishes a clear majority.

But a disturbing new mechanism of usurping power that is not won through an election, perfected by the BJP in recent years, has no such restraint. The party engineered the resignations of Congress and JD(S) MLAs and returned to power in Karnataka last year. The BJP took power on the claim of majority in a truncated legislature, and had the advantage of being the ruling party when the by-elections were held. It had used the same strategy earlier and there are indications that it might be tried in some other States too in the coming weeks. This route by-passes the Anti-Defection law but the financial and moral corruption involved in this is only far too evident. While the top court did the right thing by asking for an early floor test in M.P., the larger question the power tussle in the State has thrown up, which is the claim of majority in a legislature that has a considerably large number of seats vacant, remains unresolved. The recurrence of this model across States makes this an unhealthy pattern and a fresh challenge to clean politics. The legal and moral implications of mass resignations of MLAs to upend an electoral verdict need to be examined at the political and judicial levels.

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