Should the single largest party be invited to form the Govt? Not according to history

As the tussle over the BJP moving to form the government in Goa grew, the Congress was dealt a blow by the Supreme Court on Tuesday after it refused to stay the oath taking ceremony of Manohar Parrikar. SC ordered a floor test in the Goa Assembly on 16th March instead. This decision comes after the Congress had challenged the Goa Governor’s decision to invite the BJP to form the government.

Congress’ contention was that as per the existing convention, the single largest party is invited to form the government, which it contended should have been the Congress. Congress has won 17 seats while BJP won 13 seats in Goa assembly elections where support of 21 MLAs is needed for a majority.

But what do the rules or convention say? Does the single largest party have some sort of a perpetual right of getting called to form the government? The Supreme Court dismissed the Congress’s petition by stating that:

You (Congress) don’t have the numbers and that’s why you didn’t claim to form government… You haven’t demonstrated before the governor that number is in your favor

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Apart from this logic, the precedence on a possible course of action if no party won a majority was set by K.R. Narayanan when he was the President of India.

In 1998, after the 12th Lok Sabha results were declared, it was found that the BJP was the largest party with 182 seats, followed by the Congress with 141. As per the press release (brought to our notice via this tweet) put out then by the Rashtrapati Bhavan, it was stated that (emphasis added):

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, subject to the Prime Minister so appointed obtaining majority support on the floor of the House within a stipulated period of time. 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.

This is exactly the situation in Goa and Manipur today where the Congress is the largest party but the combination of the BJP MLAs and their post poll supporters as a collective entity are not just outnumbering the largest claimant, but are also generating a simple majority.

And as rightly pointed out here, the governors of the two states have invited the largest post-poll group to form the government provided they pass the floor test.

This precedence set by Ex-President KR Narayanan does make a lot of sense. Let’s consider an absolutely hypothetical scenario. Consider there’s a state called RaGasthan which has 20 seats. As the final results come out it is found that independents have won 11 seats, three parties have won 2 seats each, and one party, let’s call it Kungress, wins 3 seats.

So if the norm of inviting the largest party is followed, the Governor blindly invites Kungress even though it just has 3 seats when the majority mark is 11 which is about 250% more than what seats it has currently. As it turns out,  it was found that 11 independents who had won had declared a coalition and could have formed the govt by proving their majority but couldn’t as the governor was busy following the single party norm.

Even a week before the results were declared, a report in Times of India dealt with the same subject of the Governor not being obligated to invite the largest party in-case of a hung house. The article took the opinions of various constitutional experts, who in one form or the other reiterated KR Narayanan’s position. The article concluded that Governor has to apply his or her mind before calling a party to form the government, which is exactly what is being done in Goa and Manipur.

And then there is this controversial and shocking case when BJP was stopped from forming a government in Jharkhand in 2005, despite being the single largest party and largest pre-poll alliance.

Having said all of this, even if Parrikar becomes the CM of the state and manages to run a smooth government, many including its supporters might continue to raise their eyebrows over this maneuver of the BJP. Many are unsure if it is a demotion or promotion of Parrikar, who until now was tasked with the important defense ministry and had done quite a good job in it.

Plus this decision of giving the ministry’s charge to Arun Jaitley (maybe on a temporary basis) who has his hands full with the Finance ministry and the roll-out of the GST might also have its detractors. Also, this rush by the BJP is also in direct contradiction with its stance of not forming the Delhi Government when it was the largest party during the Delhi elections of  2013.

What might explain this behavior of the BJP is the fact that it desperately seeks to someday manage a majority in the Rajya Sabha and the lone RS seat from Goa held by the Congress comes up for elections in July.


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