Though inviting the single largest party to form the government in case of a hung Assembly is an established constitutional practice, it is not legally binding upon the governor.
Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission as well as the MM Punchhi Commission to invite the single largest party in the absence of any pre-poll alliance between political parties, the Supreme Court while disposing of a petition of the Congress refused to stay the swearing-in of BJP leader Manohar Parrikar as Chief Minister of Goa and ordered a floor test on March 16. The SC said all issues raised in the petition would be resolved after holding the floor test.
Influencing Floor Test
Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla did exactly what her counterpart in Goa, Mridula Sinha, did by inviting the second largest party to form the government. The floor test, as the SC observed, is indeed the ultimate assessment as to who enjoys a majority. Given the chameleon-like behaviour of a section of our politicians, especially when an opportunity comes to grab power, the party or coalition of parties that gets the first opportunity to form the government has the advantage. Therefore, the floor test also can be influenced by governor’s first choice of party/parties for invitation.
On the other hand, such floor tests ethically do not qualify a government if the rival political parties fight each other on ideological grounds in multi-corner contests and after winning the elections get together to form a coalition government. For instance, the Goa Forward Party, whose leader Vijai Sardesai, had earned a reputation for being a sharp critic of the BJP, and Manohar Parrikar in particular, has joined the BJP to form the coalition government along with Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.
In Manipur, the BJP and the Naga People’s Front (NPF) fought each other – maybe as an electoral strategy – though the two are allies in the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) Government in Nagaland. Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured the people of the State during his election campaign that the BJP will never compromise the territorial integrity of Manipur. He also allayed the suspicion of the main Manipuri ethnic group – Meitei – that the BJP-ruled Centre’s undisclosed Framework Agreement with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland, Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), has not endorsed formation of Nagalim (land of Nagas) comprising Naga-inhabited territories of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar along with the present State of Nagaland.
However, the NPF is vociferously demanding bifurcation of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur to make them a part of Nagalim. The NPF has also opposed the recent formation of seven new districts carved out of mostly Naga-inhabited areas by the erstwhile Congress government. It has demanded rolling back of the decision. It is ironical that the two parties who have contradictory views on the crucial issue of territorial integrity of Manipur have now come together to form a ‘stable’ government in the State.
The BJP fought the Assembly elections in Manipur alone without forging any pre-poll alliance with any party. It did not even have any electoral understanding with the National People’s Party (NPP), a constituent of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), which is a common political platform of the BJP and its allies in the Northeast.
Governor Heptulla, defending her action, said that she knew the Congress was the single largest party, but that it is not incumbent on the governor to invite them. She said that it was the responsibility of the governor to see who had the majority, in the interest of the State and in the interest of stability in the State. The Manipur Governor knows very well that the NPF will never give up its demand for integration of Naga-inhabited territories outside Nagaland, particularly Naga-dominated territories of Manipur, with Nagaland (NSCN-IM general secretary Th Muivah himself hails from Naga-majority Ukhrul district of Manipur adjoining Nagaland).
The new government under the leadership Chief Minister N Biren Singh will neither be able to compromise the territorial integrity of Manipur nor will he be able to undo the recently-formed seven new districts. Therefore, the view of the Governor on the stability of the State under the BJP-NPF-NPP-LJP-TMC and two others combination is not convincing.
Apprehending NPF’s untrustworthy support, the BJP is trying to play an Arunachal Pradesh-type drama by orchestrating mass defection from the Congress to the BJP so that the BJP-led government sustains for the full term. Interestingly, Shyam Kumar, a newly-elected Congress MLA, has joined the BJP-led ministry officially showing him as a Congress MLA. What strategy the BJP will adopt in case the Congress MLA is disqualified under the anti-defection law is not yet known. The reported disappearance of six newly-elected Congress MLAs from Manipur suggests the possibility of such a dramatic development in the State.
Criticising then Arunachal Pradesh Governor JP Rajkhowa for overstepping his constitutional role, the Supreme Court observed on July 4, 2016: “The Governor must keep clear of any political horse trading and even unsavoury political manipulations, irrespective of the degree of their ethical repulsiveness.” It is, therefore, logical for a governor of a State to go by the long established practice of inviting the single largest political party. If inviting them to form the government gives them some advantages over other smaller groups, by the spirit of majoritarian concept of democracy the single largest party deserves that advantage.
(The author is a senior political commentator)