In Goa, Governor Mridula Sinha ignored the established principle of inviting the single largest party in the wake of a fractured mandate, and appointed BJP leader Manohar Parrikar as chief minister on Sunday. The BJP has 13 MLAs in a House of 40, four less than the Congress. A similar situation has developed in Manipur, where Governor Najma Heptulla invited the BJP, which won fewer seats than the Congress, to form the government. The Congress should have been invited first. The BJP’s claim should have been considered only if the Congress pleaded inability or failed the floor test. Both gubernatorial decisions, in Goa and in Manipur, reek of partisanship.
Sinha’s invitation to the BJP ostensibly rests on that party hastily submitting letters of support from smaller parties — the MGP and the Goa Forward Party with three MLAs each — and three independents to claim a majority in the House. The premise of her decision is questionable: These parties did not fight the election as part of a coalition. In fact, Goa Forward Party ran an anti-BJP campaign. The BJP, of course, was quick to win over the smaller parties and approach the governor’s office. But surely this is not about running the race to the Raj Bhawan faster — speed cannot be the overriding or pressing consideration for the governor while assessing a party’s claim to form government. There have been occasions in the past where a party with the support of the largest number of legislators has been preferred over the single largest party in the assembly in government formation. But it is also true that those decisions — the Congress and its allies have been beneficiaries — were disputed on grounds of procedure and propriety. The Justice M.M. Punchhi Commission on Centre-State Relations in 2010 laid down some guidelines to be followed in the appointment of a chief minister by a governor. It said the governor should invite the leader of “a pre-poll alliance commanding the largest number” or the “largest single party” to form the government in case no party or pre-poll coalition has a clear majority. The Sarkaria Commission, which studied Centre-state relations in the 1980s, held a similar view. The CM thus appointed must prove majority as per the guidelines laid down in the Bommai judgment — on the floor of the assembly.
Ruling on a petition filed by the Congress, the Supreme Court asked the BJP government in Goa to prove its majority within 48 hours, instead of the 15 days’ leeway given by Governor Sinha. But it was a half-measure. The court’s reluctance to uphold the principle of inviting the single largest party first and therefore, to stay Parrikar’s swearing-in on Tuesday, is controversial.