Across the Aisle: Who will save the Constitution?

The question that remains is, will the legislators elected on their respective party symbols remain faithful to the party, to the voters who supported them, to the unwritten rules of a democracy, and to the Constitution of India?

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: May 20, 2018 12:15:54 am
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa addresses members of the Karnataka Assembly before a floor test, at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru, on Saturday. Two days after taking oath as CM, he resigned. (PTI Photo)

Let me remind myself — before others remind me — of what I wrote on March 19, 2017. Elections had been concluded in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. The BJP won in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the Congress won in Punjab. Referring to the other two states, I wrote: “In Goa and Manipur, the loser stole the election”. I based my remark on the following: “The party that secured the highest number of seats would be invited first to form the government… By that rule or convention, the Congress should have been invited to form the government in Goa (17/40 seats) and in Manipur (28/60).” The controversy was around the principles to be followed by a governor in inviting a person to form the government. In the absence of a party that had secured an absolute majority, should the governor invite the single largest party or a post-poll alliance (that prima facie had the majority)?

The Last Statement of Law

The question had been examined in the past and there were observations in several judgments. Goa presented a concrete opportunity. In an order dated March 14, 2017, and made in Chandrakant Kavlekar vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court observed: “The (Goa) Assembly comprises of 40 elected members. The party having the support of at least 21 elected members would obviously have majority. Annexure-B reveals that besides the 13 elected members from the BJP Legislative Party, 3 members from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa, and another 3 members from the Goa Forward Party have expressed their support to the BJP Legislature Party. Besides the above, two elected independent members have also been mentioned in the letter of the Governor — Annexure B — as having expressed their allegiance to the BJP Legislature Party. It is, therefore, that the BJP Legislature Party is shown to have the support of 21 MLAs.” The Supreme Court upheld the governor’s decision and allowed Mr Manohar Parrikar (who had not contested the election) to prove his majority — but directed him to do so in two days, by March 16, 2017. So, I was wrong on the law. Mr Arun Jaitley’s view, stated in his famous blog, was held to be right.

Governor Mocks at Court

The Goa verdict is the law declared by the Supreme Court under Article 141 of the Constitution. Under Article 144, all authorities are bound to act in aid of the Supreme Court. Goa was a text book case that the governor of Karnataka ought to have followed. It was the last and latest pronouncement on the subject by the Supreme Court. That Governor Vajubhai Vala did not will remain a blot on his record. He was loyal to the RSS/BJP and not to the Constitution of India. Once the orders were given from the top, events unfolded rapidly in Karnataka. A letter inviting Mr Yeddyurappa to form the government and prove his majority within 15 days was delivered late in the evening on May 16, the Congress and JD(S) moved the Supreme Court just before midnight on that day, a post-midnight hearing was granted by a three-member Bench, notice and certain interim directions were issued but there was no stay of the swearing-in, and Mr Yeddyurappa was sworn in as chief minister on May 17. The case before the Supreme Court was heard on May 18, 2018.

Saving the Constitution

The hearing, and the directions, were a blow to the designs of the BJP. The Supreme Court’s order can be faulted on only one ground: after having demanded and got the letter(s) written by Mr Yeddyurappa to the governor staking his claim, the Supreme Court must have noticed that Mr Yeddyurappa had never claimed that he enjoyed the support of the majority of the elected legislators! The governor’s invitation to him also did not mention any number! On this ground alone, the Supreme Court would have been justified in quashing the appointment of Mr Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister and directing the governor to take a fresh decision, but the Court was kind to both. Everything else in the order of the Court dated May 18 was unexceptionable:

* Take the vote of confidence on May 19 at 4 pm;
* Vote not by secret ballot;
* No appointment of an Anglo Indian member for the present;
* No major administrative decision until Mr Yeddyurappa secured a vote of confidence.

I salute the Supreme Court. The Court has done its utmost to save the Constitution from being ravaged by a group of power-hungry people. The question that remains — as I send this essay to the newspapers — is, will the legislators elected on their respective party symbols remain faithful to the party, to the voters who supported them, to the unwritten rules of a democracy, and to the Constitution of India?

Postscript: Thanks to the Supreme Court, every citizen watching the proceedings of the Karnataka Assembly live became a pro tem Speaker. After covering themselves with everlasting shame, before the vote could be taken, the leaders of the BJP threw in the towel. The 75-year-old pretender resigned. The puppeteers went into hiding. Democracy in Karnataka has been saved — for the time being.

Website: pchidambaram.in; Twitter: @Pchidambaram_IN

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