Just over a year ago, in May 2018, the people of Karnataka had rejected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rather decisively in the Assembly elections. The BJP got 36% votes while Congress got 38% and Janata Dal (Secular) over 18%, as per Election Commission records. It is true that the Congress and JDS had contested separately but they got together after the elections. BJP was invited to form the government because the Governor, a BJP loyalist from Gujarat, was clearly biased in their favour. This was evident from the fact that a long time was given to the new government to prove its majority. The Supreme Court intervened, ordered a quicker vote on the floor of the House, and BJP lost. That was Season 1 of the nataka.
In Season 2, the BJP has presented to the country an innovative way of grabbing power. It’s not wholesale defection, it’s not buying out a few independents, it’s not splitting or swallowing up small parties, it’s not a new alliance with a regional party. These methods were applied in other states (see below for details) primarily to escape the anti-defection law. But, in Karnataka, there was a different situation. The numbers needed to avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law were too big and so the BJP could not manage a split or a legal splinter from Congress and JDS.
But, where there is a will, there is a way. Especially if you have deep pockets.
New Model of Regime Change
So, the BJP engineered a new marvel of regime change. It got 17 MLAs of the ruling coalition to absent themselves from the Assembly Session. This brought down the strength of the House. There is no law about attendance as far as trust votes are concerned. Even the Supreme Court allowed the ‘rebel’ MLAs to remain absent. In a reduced House strength, naturally the number required to get majority also gets reduced. And, the coalition strength is reduced in any case without the votes of the ‘rebels’.
So, BJP has been invited – by the same Governor – to form the government. It’s leader is, of course, the same BS Yediyuruppa, except that he has changed the spelling of his name. Since 2007, he had been writing it as Yeddyurappa. This is not a technical requirement, it’s just that numerologists seem to have advised him that the earlier spelling was causing grief to him, what with losing out on chief ministership in 2008 and 2013, and again in 2018.
Although the media is praising the devilish skills of the BJP in “remaining aloof” even as the moribund coalition of Congress and JDS died its own death, this is far from the truth. BJP and Yediyurappa had been actively working to destroy the coalition government right through the last year. There had been numerous reports of legislators being lured repeatedly. One JDS MLA even released a video showing BJP offering him Rs.40 crore for siding with them. After the BJP’s big victory in the Lok Sabha elections in May this year, these efforts got a new urgency. The result was that BJP managed to lure away 17 MLAs and defeat the mandate of 2018.
Other State Power Grabs by BJP
Since the BJP’s rise to power in 2014, it has openly used horse-trading and a bag full of dirty tricks to seize power in several states going against people’s mandate. Here are some examples:
• In the 2014 Assembly elections in Arunachal Pradesh, BJP won 11 seats, Congress 42, People’s Party of Arunachal 5 and Independents 2. Over the course of two tumultuous years, the numbers changed to: BJP 48; Congress 1; PPA 9; Independents 2! Wholesale defections, a spell of President’s rule, death of an ex-CM, Supreme Court’s intervention, recall of a reluctant governor and four chief ministers later, the BJP finally grabbed power!
• In Jharkhand’s Assembly elections in 2014, BJP won 35 seats and its ally All Jharkhand Students Union 5 seats in the 81-member Assembly. They were just short of the majority. So, again they won over some independent members and lured 6 out of 8 MLAs of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha to gain a majority.
• In the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections for 243 seats, the BJP got just 53 seats and 2 went to its allies. It was a sound drubbing, delivered by the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Janata Dal (United)-Congress alliance which got a massive mandate of 178 seats contesting as a pre-poll alliance. Yet, BJP broke up the alliance, lured away JD(U) and its chief minister Nitish Kumar, and in July 2017, formed a coalition government.
• For the Goa Assembly, elections in 2017 gave BJP just 13 of the 40 total seats. They cobbled up a coalition after results were announced with small local parties and formed a government even as the single largest party, the Congress, sits in the opposition with 17 seats.
• In Manipur, BJP won 21 seats out of 60 in the 2017 Assembly elections while the Congress got 28. But the BJP won over two local parties National People’s Party and Naga People’s Front and lone MLA from its ally Lok Janshakti Party to claim the government. The Governor Najma Heptullah, a former BJP MP, helped along by inviting the BJP-led alliance first to form the government.
• In Meghalaya, BJP won just two seats in the 2018 elections for the 60-member Assembly. But it struck a post-poll alliance with NPP to become part of the government. Again, a helpful Governor, Ganga Prasad, a former BJP MLC from Bihar helped.
• And, in Karnataka Assembly elections in 2018, despite having only 104 MLAs in a 224-member Assembly (elections to 2 seats were not held), the BJP formed a 55-hour long government. with the help of former Gujarat MLA Vajubhai Vala in his new role as Governor of the state. Had the Supreme Court not intervened and called for a floor test the next day, BJP would have happily remained in power.
These examples, and the latest Season 2 in Karnataka, yet again prove that the BJP is brazen and unscrupulous in its greed for power at every level. They have shown scant respect for the people or their mandates, and openly adopted devious ways to scuttle democratic norms and federal principles, that form the core of the Constitution. For them, the end justifies the means.