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FIXING THE POST-ELECTION MATCH

THAT A HUNG Legislative Assembly and a pro-active Governor make for a combustive combination has once again been proved — this time in the tiny State of Jharkhand where Governor Syed Sibtey Razi has installed, in far from decent haste, a Government led by Shibu Soren. The invitation to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader went out even as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal (United) combine claimed it had the requisite numbers to form a Government. Lest its plea should go unheeded, the ruling alliance conducted a parade of its MLAs before the Governor. The exertions proved useless as within hours of the unedifying spectacle, the Governor installed Mr. Soren as the State's third Chief Minister. Caught off guard by the decision, the BJP threw Parliament into turmoil; senior party leaders denounced the Governor's action as a constitutional "outrage" and, somewhat lamely, called for the intervention of the President. Although the recent election to the 81-member State Assembly produced a fractured verdict, the numbers favoured the ruling combine rather than the Opposition Congress-JMM alliance. The BJP-JD(U) together had 36 seats, five short of a majority. For the Congress and the JMM, it was a much longer haul since they had only 26 seats between them. However, thanks to the good offices of Sonia Gandhi and the political shrewdness of Lalu Prasad, a Rashtriya Janata Dal that had been obliged to fight the election on its own was quickly won over, and the Shibu Soren-led combine swelled to 33 MLAs.

The BJP-JD(U) had a legitimate claim to the first turn, the first chance to prove its majority on the floor of the newly elected Assembly. This pre-poll alliance had more seats than the JMM-Congress, of course, but also a larger vote share — 27.5 per cent against 26 per cent. This by itself did not entitle the ruling alliance to an invitation to form the Government. It is now widely accepted that no special sanctity attaches to the single largest party or pre-poll alliance. The Governor (or President) is required by democratic norms to offer the first turn to a party or a combination of parties that, in his or her objective judgment, is most likely to win a floor test. If no alliance is able to demonstrate a majority in advance, that is, on the basis of verified letters of support, the constitutionally proper course for the Governor (or President) will be to invite the combine with the largest number of legislators to form the Government — and require it to demonstrate a majority on the floor of the House within a reasonably stipulated time.

The Governor clearly bent the rules to invite a combine further away from the halfway mark than its rival to form the Government, which means he has given the `loser' an unfair advantage in the game of luring fence-sitters through inducements and incentives. What made a dubious decision constitutionally improper was the pre-emptive manner in which the new Chief Minister was sworn in. (Mr. Soren's list carried the names of two MLAs who were paraded before the Governor by the BJP-JD(U) combine.) Prime Minister Indira Gandhi famously treated Raj Bhavans as extension counters of the Central Government. Partisan Governors have caused Governments to come and go in Uttar Pradesh, and more recently in Goa, the actions of Governor and Speaker have seemed to cancel each other out in terms of partisanship verging on constitutional impropriety. Governor Razi's actions carry the unmistakeable stamp of a command job, and it is deplorable that the United Progressive Alliance Government could not resist the temptation of fixing the post-election match in this State. Lalu Prasad, whose party won seven seats on its own and claimed a vote share of 8.47 per cent, might be having the last laugh. He has emerged kingmaker in Jharkhand — along with Governor Razi.

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