The Assembly Elections in Karnataka produced an inconclusive verdict as no single party getting a simple majority to form the government. However, the BJP won 104 of the 222 constituencies and emerged as a single largest party. The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) won 78 and 37 seats respectively.
With the results of the Karnataka assembly election throwing up a hung house, the role of the Governor has come into focus, in regard to whether the single largest party or the leader claiming majority with post-poll alliance should be invited to form the new government.
It triggered a debate about the role of the Governor in government formation when there is a hung assembly.
Role of the Governor in the government formation
As a matter of convention, the Governor has to first invite the single largest party to form the government. But the decision has to be an “informed one” and “on sound basis,” with a view to provide a stable government.
In 2006, President of India (then) Dr A P J Abdul Kalam while addressing the governors had emphasized the relevance of recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission and said “While there are many checks and balances provided by the Constitution, the office of the Governor has been bestowed with the independence to rise above day-to-day politics and override compulsions either emanating from the central system or the state system.”
In the Rameshwar Prasad Vs Union of India, 2006, case, a five-judge Constitution Bench, clearly recommended the suggestions made by the R S Sarkaria Commission in its report on Centre-State relations, which had emphasized on the impartiality of Governors and their role in upholding the constitutional mandate.
Later, the M M Punchhi Commission also elaborated that the governor should follow “constitutional conventions” in a case of a hung Assembly. Further, in a case of a Hung Assembly, the Punchhi Commission prescribed:
1. The party or alliances which get the widest support in the Legislative Assembly should be called upon to form the government.
2. If there is a pre-poll coalition or alliance, it should be treated as one political party. And in case, such coalition gets a majority, the leader of such alliances shall be called by the Governor to form the government.
3. In case no pre-poll coalition or party has a clear majority, the governor should select the Chief Minister in the order of priorities indicated here:
(i) The group of parties which had a pre-poll alliance of the largest number.
(ii) The largest single party which claims to form the government with the support of others;
(iii) A post-electoral alliance with all partners joining the government;
(iv) A post-electoral alliance where parties are joining the government and the remaining including independents are supporting the government from outside.
In the Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix Vs Deputy Speaker case a five-judge Bench, recommended the views of the Punchhi and Sarkaria Commissions regarding giving the Governor an independent discretion to take a call on the floor test when the government has lost the confidence of the legislature.
In the S R Bommai case, a nine-judge Bench had underlined the significance of a floor test when there are claims by two political groups while laying down that the floor test must be conducted by the Governor as soon as possible.
History of such cases
There are many such incidences in history where the political parties with fewer seats were invited to form the government by the governor.
In 1993, advocates on Record Association Vs Union of India, case which was a case in regards to weight of “constitutional convention”, a seven-judge bench, in Supreme Court, had held that “there is no distinction between the ‘constitutional law’ and an established ‘constitutional convention’ and both are binding in the field of their operation.
The Supreme court also observed that “Once it is established to the satisfaction of the court that a particular convention exists and is operating then the convention becomes a part of the ‘constitutional law’ of the land and can be enforced in the like manner,”.
Article 164 of the Constitution says: “The Chief Minister shall be appointed by the Governor and the other ministers shall be appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister, and the ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor.”
Article 164(2) of the Constitution says that the Council of Ministers must be collectively responsible to the House.
Similar Case in the Lok Sabha
In Lok Sabha, the debate between a combination of parties constituting a majority versus the largest single party lacking majority was answered by the former President Shri KR Narayanan.
Mr. Narayanan elaborated it in his communiqué in March 1998 when he invited Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee to form the Government. He had said “when no party or pre-election alliance of parties is in a clear majority, the Head of State has in India or elsewhere, given the first opportunity to the leader of the party or combination of parties that has won largest number of seats subject to the Prime Ministers so appointed obtaining majority support on the floor of the house within a stipulated time.
This procedure is not, however, 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.”
In a democracy, the proper representation of public interest is of supreme importance. And the governments are chosen by the people. And, our constitution has clearly directed the ways how the government should be formed in the case of Hung Assembly. And it has given this prerogative to the Governors. So the governor should analyze which political party or alliance is forming the majority on the basis of constitutional provisions. And his decision should be followed by the political parties.