Few doubted that Manohar Parrikar would win the trust vote, held in the most controversial circumstances, on Thursday. Goa governor Mridula Sinha and the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar may be given credit for this. Thus the party that forfeited the people’s mandate in the just-concluded election is back in the saddle. The ethical propriety of this must be reflected on by all. That constitutes the first principle. The question here is of constitutional propriety, not of the Congress’ slow-footedness in staking its claim to government formation. That is a political matter with which the court should not have concerned itself. In the Goa polls, the BJP’s chief minister and five Cabinet ministers lost. In the final tally, the Congress came first with 17 seats and the BJP second with 13 in an Assembly of 40. The rest were a medley of small parties and Independents.
The Supreme Court held that in a hung Assembly the party that topped the list failed to show it had the support of a majority of legislators, while the second party moved swiftly and gave an adequate list to the Governor. The Governor, thus, could not be faulted. This is perverse logic which flies in the face of what the Constitution desires, and the matter should be brought before a Constitution Bench. If such a precedent is accepted, in a hung House, the second or even third party, which can lure elected members of other parties will emerge king. Proof of strength is to be tested on the floor of the Assembly, and nowhere else.
It is entirely feasible that if the first party was invited to take a floor test, it would have emerged victorious. If the Congress flunked the test, the second party — BJP — could be invited.
BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee was invited by President Shankar Dayal Sharma to prove his majority as he led the biggest party in the Lok Sabha. But he couldn’t get the numbers and resigned. After his tenure as PM, Rajiv Gandhi led the biggest party in Parliament. He didn’t stake a claim but was still invited by President R. Venkatraman, but he declined the chance. These examples should have guided the governor and the court. Like Goa, in Manipur, the ruling Congress returned as the first party in a hung Assembly, but governor Najma Heptulla invited the BJP, the second party. Our Constitution and conventions are being willfully disrupted.