BJP invited to form Karnataka govt: Why single largest party got governor's nod over post-poll coalition

The recent elections in Karnataka have thrown up a situation that has become common in Indian politics. One party is the single largest, but a coalition of Opposition parties end up having enough seats to form a government. When it comes to state elections, the decision finally boils down to the governor who is the constitutional head of State.

Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala.

Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala.

The decision for the governor is a complicated one. How does the governor make a choice? Well, the Constitution doesn't explicitly speak of coalitions nor does it speak of a single largest party. The Constitution requires that the chief minister selected by the governor be one that is able to prove a majority in the House.

Under Article 164 of the Constitution, when the chief minister is called to form a government, they need not be a member of the legislature. They get six months to get elected to a legislature.

While reading Article 164 and discussing the discretion of the governor, it may be wise to consider the Lascelles Principles (British principles on which the Queen can refuse dissolve British Parliament). These principles are conventions which have, by the course of history, passed to other Westminster systems of government such as India.

In the Indian states, the governor essentially has the same role as the Queen. A key element of the Lascelles Principles are that the Queen may refuse to dissolve parliament if she is of the opinion it is possible for a party or a person to maintain a working majority in the House.

The decision as to who to call as chief minister lies with the governor, but the governor is required to exercise this discretion in order to invite the person who he is satisfied is most likely to form a government that can win a vote of confidence in the House. Which is why the governor invites the single largest party — as Vajubhai Vala did in the case of BJP in Karnataka — and in case of a coalition the leader of the coalition.

In Karnataka, the BJP lost the majority by a razor-thin margin. Even though the Congress and JD(S) combine won the popular vote (more than 50 percent) the BJP ended up with most seats. The governor may have viewed coalition as an unstable one and thus asked the BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa to form the government. This may not have been the case in other states where the BJP formed a government even though it was not the single largest party.

That the single largest party must be called to form the government is not a hard and fast rule. The Constitution allows for flexibility, purely with the reason that the purpose of elections in India is not to return legislators but in essence to return a government. One that has enough votes to pass a budget or as they say maintain supply.

If the governor is satisfied the BJP can hold the confidence of the House, that settles the question right there. The only way out for the Opposition coalition is to hold a vote of confidence. Even if the BJP loses the vote of confidence, if the governor is still not satisfied that the coalition can form a stable government, the governor may dissolve the House and call for fresh elections. In cases like these, the governor is truly the kingmaker.

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Updated Date: May 17, 2018 08:13:27 IST

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