Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has until 4pm on May 19th, 2018, to prove his majority, according to the Supreme Court. A trust vote will be held at the stipulated time during which BJP will have to prove its majority or risk losing its government. The Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections has become one of the most contentiously contested elections in the state’s history. Every hour seems to yield yet another dramatic development in the future of the state’s governance.
Karnataka took its present shape in 1956, after the states of Mysore and Coorg (Kodagu) merged with the Kannada-speaking districts of the former states of Bombay and Hyderabad, and Madras. Mysore state was made up of 10 districts: Bangalore, Kolar, Tumkur, Mandya, Mysore, Hassan, Chikmagalur (Kadur), Shimoga, and Chitradurga.
The politics of Karnataka is dominated by three major political parties, the Indian National Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Indian National Congress was in power in the state between May 2013 and May 2018.
On May 12th, 2018, state-wide Legislative Assembly elections were held in Karnataka. It was one of the most hotly contested and bitter campaigns fought in recent years. The election was also viewed as crucial as its outcome could provide the roadmap to how the general elections will play out in 2019.
SR Bommai case
Somappa Rayappa Bommai was the 11th Chief Minister of Karnataka. He was also the Human Resource Development Minister in the United Front government from 1996 to 1998. He had been the Chief Minister of Karnataka for a period of seven months before the Governor had dismissed his government. This had been due to large scale defections within his party. The Governor had argued that he had lost his majority. He filed a case against this, which led to a landmark Supreme Court judgment in 1994. The judgement attempted to curb blatant misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution of India, which allowed President's rule to be imposed over state governments.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest winner in the Karnataka elections, securing 104 out of the 222 assembly. The Indian National Congress (INC) won 78 and the Janata Dal (JD) 38 seats. Independents attained victory in two seats.
The Karnataka governor invited the BJP to form the Government. However, this became a controversial move as Congress and JDS had formed an alliance after the results were announced. Thus, the two parties noted that together they had enough seats in order to form a government. The events that took place after the announcement of election results were highly dramatic. Governor Vajubhai Vala had given BJP a period of 15 days to prove its strength on the floor test. However, the Supreme Court later reduced the period required for a floor test, ordering a floor test the day after the hearing. The trust vote will now be taking place on May 19th, 2018.
Arguing on behalf of Yeddyurappa, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said, "There should be a reasonable time, not one day, for a floor test." The judges replied, "There are past precedents fixing such short time period for a floor test."
Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the court order vindicated his party's stand. "The BJP's bluff that it will form the Govt., even without the numbers, has been called out by the court. Stopped legally, they will now try money and muscle, to steal the mandate," he tweeted. BJP has noted that it would show majority.
Meanwhile, B. S. Yeddyurappa has been sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka. Congress, for its part, is ensuring that its MLAs are kept away from BJP party members. Due to increased fears of being poached, the Congress on Friday brought its Karnataka MLAs to Hyderabad. They are presently at a Taj property in the city. According to the latest reports, Yeddyurappa has himself reached Hyderabad and would be meeting with Congress MLAs.
Meanwhile, BJP has taken to citing the SR Bommai case to argue that it should be allowed to form as government as the single largest party. However, it should be noted that the case may not be relevant to the current situation at all. In fact, a text from the landmark ruling notes, “We make it clear that what we have said above is confined to a situation where the incumbent Chief Minister is alleged to have lost the majority support or the confidence of the House. It is not relevant to a situation arising after a general election where the Governor has to invite the leader of the party commanding majority in the House or the single largest party/group to form the Government. We need express no opinion regarding such a situation.”
In addition, Governor Vajubhai Vala has appointed BJP's KG Boapaiah as pro tem speaker. This move has been condemned by Congress.
Our assessment is that given the highly mercurial nature of politics being played out in Karnataka, it would be hard to predict the outcome of the floor test. The Karnataka elections and its subsequent results leaves us grappling with the nature of the Indian democracy and its strength. It also presents a number of important questions regarding who should be in power – the single largest party or the coalition that can prove majority? The Karnataka elections also prove that the 2019 general elections will also be highly contentious and the national parties are gearing up for a battle.