Consolidation over Consolation: The Case of Goa
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s ability to form governments in states where it stood second reveal not just the ineptness of the Congress, but also pushes the standard with regard to post-poll action.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not revel in its unprecedented win in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand for too long. While pollsters and analysts delved into the factors at play in the Hindi heartland, the BJP looked to two other states and developed a strategy. By the 12th of March, only a day after the results were declared, it became clear that the party, which stood second in Goa and Manipur, would be forming governments in both. Almost immediately after the verdict, senior party functionaries from both Delhi and the states got to work and stitched together post-poll alliances that caught the Congress completely by surprise. Within a short period, the Congress, which was the single largest party in both states, realised that they would be sitting in opposition. A series of deftly executed political manoeuvres, coupled with the Congress’ inability to reach a consensus for staking a claim to form government, led to the BJP taking 4 of the 5 states that went to polls. Here, I shall be looking at the significant takeaways from the experience in Goa specifically, where the incumbent BJP, with a significantly reduced seat share, still managed to pass the floor test with the support of smaller regional parties and independents.
1. THE BJP NEEDS A SERIOUS OVERHAUL IN GOA
The BJP only managed to form a government in Goa for two reasons: 1) The Congress was too caught up with in-fighting and confusion, giving the BJP an opening to analyse the verdict and ensure that they get past the crucial halfway mark with the support of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Goa Forward and independent MLAs. 2) The non-BJP non-Congress parties put their faith in a government that would be led only by Manohar Parrikar.
Since Parrikar’s elevation to Union Minister for Defence and Laxmikant Parsekar taking over the office of Chief Minister, the BJP has steadily lost ground in the state. What this reveals is that the Goa BJP has a substantial dearth of leaders who have the confidence of the people of Goa or other parties in the way that Mr. Parrikar did, evinced by Mr. Parsekar’s loss from Mandrem. Goa Forward Chief Vijai Sardesai, only hours after the results, made it clear that his party would only support a BJP government if Mr. Parrikar would return to the state and take up his old office. Thus, while the BJP can celebrate its success in retaking Goa, it must introspect and analyse its substantial dip in popularity in the state.
2. ISSUES WITHIN THE CONGRESS PARTY
Much has been said since the verdict of the General Elections in 2014 that the Congress party is suffering from a number of internal issues, but up till now this has only been locker room talk. However, after the 11th of March, it became clear that this was not simply a hunch. The lethargic pace at which the Congress Party moved after the verdict, where it emerged as the single largest party in Goa as well as Manipur, showed that either the central leadership was too caught up in celebrating its ‘victory’ in three states, or that the same central leadership was unable to form a quick and definitive consensus for post-poll alliances due to internal disagreements that wasted valuable time.
The BJP, on the other hand, was quick to move into action and begin liaising with smaller parties. It cannot be said that the Congress was caught unawares by the verdict and therefore was unable to move swiftly enough. Multiple analyses of the Goa polls prior to the result suggested that the State would be heading for a fractured mandate and that the small regional parties would be kingmakers. Given the likelihood of such a result, the Congress should have considered it prudent to have a game plan in place which would come into action the moment the results became final. Perhaps this is a testament to the quick thinking of BJP Goa-in-charge Nitin Gadkari, or the flat-footedness of his Congress counterpart Digvijaya Singh.
3. LEGAL GROUNDS
After the BJP’s swift manoeuvring in Goa as well as Manipur, the Congress began to cry foul almost immediately like getting out in a game of gully cricket when one was ‘not ready’. While not being quick enough to stitch a post-poll alliance or stake their claim to form government, the Congress did move with remarkable speed in stating that the Governors in both states flouted constitutional norms when inviting the BJP for government formation. Citing the recommendations of the Sarkaria and the Punchhi Commissions on Centre-State relations, as well as the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Rameshwar Prasad & Ors. v. Union of India & Anr. [(2006) 2 SCC 1], the Congress put forward the contention that it was the constitutional and moral duty of the Governor to invite the single largest party to form government in the absence of any pre-poll alliances. This formed the basis for their writ petition to the Supreme Court of India seeking a stay on the swearing-in of Manohar Parrikar as Chief Minister.
It is a matter of record that both the Sarkaria and Punchhi Commissions recommended that a Governor must invite the single largest party post-election to form the government of the state. The Punchhi Commission report laid down the following specific guidelines for the Governor to follow in the event of a hung assembly:
However, what the Punchhi Commission invariably suggested was that the single largest party should be given a chance to form a government, even in the event of the existence of a group that, after the polls, has the majority of the house either by coalition or post-electoral alliance. Advocating this procedure defeats one of the primary purposes of the Governor and of state electoral politics – to provide a stable government for the state. In the current scenario, had the Congress been the first to stake claim to form government despite the BJP and its supporters having superior numbers in the house, it would eventually lead to a possible no-confidence motion or calls for another set of elections. This would not only be a loss of valuable time but also a drain on resources, as elections are a long and expensive affair.
It is also possible that the formation of an unstable government would result in the imposition of President’s Rule in the state, which is always a contentious issue given the recent Uttarakhand Assembly Case.
While the Sarkaria Commission provides a similar order of preference to the Punchhi Commission, it also laid down an important principle that should be the guiding philosophy of government formation in any state:
“The party or combination of parties which commands the widest support in the Legislative Assembly should be called upon to form the Government.”
The principle laid down is that of ‘widest support in the Legislative Assembly’. While it is true that the Congress managed to secure the maximum number of seats in the elections, the BJP, by securing the support of the smaller parties and independents, proved that it commanded such a wide support in the Assembly, and this was further confirmed by the floor test.
Furthermore, a closer examination of the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendation that the single largest party be asked to form the government in the absence of a single party or pre-poll alliance with an absolute majority reveals that the Congress grossly erred in their conduct after the results. The provision reads:
“The largest single party staking a claim to form the government with the support of others, including “independents.”
The single greatest error committed by the Congress in Goa was their failure to stake a claim. As observed by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India during the hearing of the petition of the Congress:
“You should have gone with your list to the Governor and told her ‘Here we have the numbers to form the government’. You should have gone on a dharna in front of the Governor’s residence if you had the numbers and someone else was staking a claim to form the government. You (Congress) could have proven your numbers anytime, even after approaching the Supreme Court. In the night or even today. But so far you have done nothing. You did not even have the affidavits filed before us for the record to prove that you have numbers.”
The Hon’ble Chief Justice of India rightly observed that the Congress could have at any point proven their numbers and staked their claim to form government in Goa.
4. THE NEW 'REALPOLITIK'
As the post-election situations in Manipuar and Goa show, being the single largest party in an election amounts to little in the absence of swift actions of consolidation. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s claim that it was money power that allowed the BJP to ‘steal’ the mandate of the people from the Congress is only an attempt to deflect the issue that internal issues sidetracked his party, allowing the BJP to take advantage.
The events unfolding in these states also reveal a new form of Realpolitik developing organically in India. Not necessarily the Machiavellian kind which is based on the absence of ethics and morality, but an organic Indian version that takes into account the need for a stable government and quick action. This version combines pragmatism with opportunism. The actions of the BJP showcase a new era of political deftness that has little consideration for time. The party’s ability to take advantage of the Congress’ confusion has set the standard for political parties to get into action immediately after a verdict, capitalizing on even the remotest possibility of being able to form a stable government. It would be prudent for the Congress, in such a scenario, to indulge in some self-reflection and make necessary changes to keep up with the changing nature of Indian politics. Meanwhile, the BJP has successfully introduced a refreshing new discourse in Indian politics – that in an era of coalitions and alliance based politics, a pragmatic and swift approach ensures that he who consolidates fastest, laughs longest.