The Indian Supreme Court’s refusal to stay the swearing-in of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka scheduled for May 17, will help the BJP consolidate itself in the South Indian State and use it as a springboard to spread its pernicious Hindutva ideology throughout the South. The court’s decision will also facilitate horse-trading as the BJP strives to secure eight more Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to secure a simple majority of 112 in the House of 222 members, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
Early on Thursday, the Supreme Court considered a plea by the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) combine to nullify the Karnataka Governor’s step of asking the BJP to form the government in the State and prove its majority in the Assembly in 15 days’ time. The petition had also sought a stay of the swearing-in ceremony till the case is decided.
While denying a stay on the swearing-in, the court said that it would continue to hear the case before it.
However, given the 15 days’ time given by the State Governor Vajubhai Vala, to the BJP to cobble together a simple majority, horse-trading, or buying over MLAs with blandishments, will become the order of the day. Buying over MLAs is an evil practice which the 1985 anti-defection law tried to end by automatically disqualifying defectors. But since the anti-defection law is justiciable, defectors go to the court to get an indefinite stay.
The BJP will ignore the anti-defection law and get MLAs from the JD (S) and the Congress to cross over. This will set up a very bad precedent in a country where politics is already a dirty, no holds barred game.
ln the recent elections to the Karnataka State Assembly, no party got a simple majority to form the government. In a House of 222, the BJP got 104 seats, the Congress 78, the JD (S) 37, and Others got three. But for any party or grouping to stake a claim to form the government, support of a minimum of 112 MLAs was needed.
In case no party gets the required simple majority, the Governor may ask the single largest party to form the government and ask it to prove its majority through a vote within a reasonable span of time. Alternatively, if a group of parties had formed an alliance, and said they had the numbers, then Governor could ask them to form the government and prove their claim to having the numbers.
In Karnataka’s case, the Congress and Janata Dal (S) had come together post-elections, and showed the Governor that they had 117 MLAs, five more than the required simple majority of 112. But still the Governor asked the BJP to form the government and gave them 15 days time to cobble together a support base. This was not surprising because Governor Vajubhai Vala is a BJP card holder.
The Congress and JD (S) promptly challenged this in the Supreme Court the same evening.
Judge Bobde said that the court could not interfere with the Governor’s decision. He asked if it was not the norm to ask the single largest party to form the government first. He asked if stopping the swearing-in ceremony would not create a “constitutional vacuum” in Karnataka.
Answering the queries, Congress’ counsel Abhishek Singhvi said that there would be no constitutional vacuum as the existing Congress government is the caretaker regime. As for the norm about giving the first chance to the single largest party, Singhvi said that in at least seven cases in the past, the single largest party had been denied the first chance if other parties had united and presented greater support.
If the single largest party had primacy, the Congress would have been asked to form the government in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, he pointed . But the Governors in these cases had asked the coalitions put together by the BJP after the elections to form the government.
By that token, Singhvi said, the Congress-JD (S) alliance with 117 confirmed members should be given preference over the BJP which has just 104 members. He pointed that the BJP would indulge in horse trading to get the extra numbers, thus brazenly violating the anti-defection law.
Given the current structure of the Supreme Court and the pro-government stance of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the court might allow the BJP to continue in power in Karnataka. Misra, who is in trouble, enjoys the support of the Modi government.
Boost to Hindutva
If the BJP is ensconced in power in Karnataka, it will vigorously pursue its communal Hindutva agenda and use Karnataka as a springboard to influence the politics of other South Indian States where communal ideologies had had no support historically.
During the Karnataka elections, Modi whipped up Hindu-majoritarian sentiments exploiting the Hindus’ tense relations with Muslims and Christians in some districts. In contrast, the Congress was portrayed as a “secular” and pro-minority party. Congress Chief Minister Siddharamaiah was portrayed as an “agnostic and “secularist” who tried to give a “separate religious group status” to a section of the Hindu Lingayat community. The Karnataka population was made to feel that Siddharamaiah was a divider of the Hindus and a friend of the Muslims.
But since Siddharamaiah’s government had a good record on the developmental and social welfare fronts, many thought he will stop the Hindutva Juggernaut. He almost did that, having secured a higher voter share than the BJP. But in the First Past the Post system of elections, the BJP got more seats to become the single largest party.
Fallout in South India
BJP leaders say that their largely North Indian party has at last broken the “Southern Barrier” by twice emerging as the single largest party in Karnataka in the last decade. It is claimed that it has developed the ability to capture and retain power not just in North India but in the East and South also. The BJP expects to storm the opposition ruled Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the South.
The “Modi factor” is a major consideration in the BJP’s calculations. He is at once a Hindutva icon and a development icon, in the eyes of many Indians.
Those following South Indian politics say that the States in the region are no longer secular and social justice-oriented. There is a growing clientele for aggressive Hindutva which Modi is propagating vigorously. Across castes and classes in the South, there are Hindus view Islam and Muslims unfavorably as agents of extremism, terrorism and intolerance. Hindutva supporters brazenly justify atrocities against Muslims and approve their social and political marginalization under the Modi regime.
(The featured image at the top shows the Supreme Courts judges who heard the case from left to right: S.A. Bobde, Ashok Bhushan and A,K.Sikri)