The suspense over the government formation in Karnataka recalls the post-election situation in Goa in 2017. Governor Mridula Sinha invited BJP leader Manohar Parrikar to form the government, even though the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the elections.
Goa Congress Legislature Party leader Chandrakant Kavlekar moved the Supreme Court on March 13, 2017, challenging the Governor’s decision to invite Parrikar to form the government. A Bench of the then Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R K Agrawal, while rejecting the Congress’s objection, ordered a floor test, saying that the “instant sensitive and contentious issue… can be resolved by a simple direction, requiring the holding of a floor test at the earliest”.
It added that “The holding of the floor test would remove all possible ambiguities, and would result in giving the democratic process, the required credibility”. In the 2017 Goa Assembly elections, the BJP had won only 13 of the 40 seats. The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 17 seats.
Appearing for Kavlekar, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the Governor could not have arrived at her satisfaction on whom to call for forming the government without talking to the leader of the single largest party. Singhvi contended that since there was no pre-poll alliance, the Governor should have first asked the single largest party if it was in a position to form the government.
The court, however, ruled that in such a situation, the Governor had discretionary powers and that the Congress had not demonstrated its numbers before the Governor. The Bench noted that the petitioner made no attempt to counter the BJP’s claim regarding the support received from other MLAs. It also said that a floor test was possible only after the House was constituted as the pro tem Speaker had to administer the oath.
The Bench observed that healthy constitutional conventions are also subject to numbers in such cases. “If the single largest party has the majority, then no such question has to arise. But when no political party is in majority, then it is the bounden duty of the Governor to see who can form the government. If nothing happens, then the Governor is duty-bound to call the leader of the single largest party but if someone goes to the Governor with a list of supporters, then it is a different issue altogether. Here, at no point of time, you have demonstrated that they don’t have the numbers but you do. Eventually, it is the question of healthy constitutional convention subject to the numbers,” it said.
The court asked the Governor “ to ensure, that a floor test is held on 16.03.2017, and the only agenda for the day would be, the holding of a floor test to determine whether the Chief Minister administered the oath of office, has the support of the majority”.
Senior BJP leader and Union Minister Arun Jaitley had then sought to justify the Governor’s move. He said the question of the single largest party without a majority pitted against a combination of parties forming a majority was dealt with by former President K R Narayanan when he invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government in March 1998. Narayanan, he pointed out, had said that “when no party or pre-election alliance of parties is in a clear majority, the Head of the State has in India or elsewhere, given the first opportunity to the leader of the party or the combination of the parties that has won largest number of seats subject to the Prime Minister so appointed obtaining majority on the floor of the House within a stipulated time. This procedure is not, however, an all-time formula because situations can arise where MPs not belonging to the single largest party or combination, can, as a collective entity, out-number the single largest claimant. The President’s choice of Prime Minister is pivoted on the would-be Prime Minister’s claim of commanding majority support”.