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Drama far from over in India’s Karnataka after polls

Supreme Court orders one-day-old Karnataka chief minister to prove majority on May 19.

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Updated: May 18, 2018

The battle for Karnataka that was played out on May 12 – when voters sealed the fate of political parties in this southern Indian state – is far from over.

Though officially BS Yeddyurappa from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was sworn in as the new chief minister on May 17, he has to face a floor test in the state assembly on May 19 to prove his majority.

The battle for Karnataka is crucial as it comes ahead of India’s 2019 general elections.

Though political pundits had predicted a hotly contested election in the state – with the BJP and the Congress as the main players – the unfolding of events in the state is unprecedented.

Following the results on May 15, the BJP won 104 seats, Congress 78 and a regional party Janata Dal (Secular) 37 in the 222 seats that went to polls. With none of the parties securing a clear majority, both the BJP and the Congress staked a claim to form a government.

While the BJP emerged as the single largest party, it fell short of a clear majority. The Congress, with an after-poll alliance with the JD(S), bagged enough seats to form a government. The decision to invite either of the parties to form the government lay with the state Governor, Vajubhai Vala. He decided to give the BJP a chance.

However, the Congress and JD(S) challenged the Governor’s move in the Supreme Court. The apex court, in a second-ever pre-dawn hearing, declined to stall the Governor’s order, but asked the one-day old B S Yeddyurappa government to prove its majority in a floor test.

In a tweet, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said: “Today’s Supreme Court order, vindicates our stand that Governor Vala acted unconstitutionally. The BJP’s bluff that it will form the Govt., even without the numbers, has been called out by the court. Stopped legally, they will now try money & muscle, to steal the mandate.”

At the same time, Congress, in a largely symbolic statement, announced it would meet the Governors in Goa and Manipur states – where it could not form governments in spite of emerging the single largest party in elections last year – and stake claim afresh.

Congress and JD(S) are nervous that the BJP will woo their newly elected legislators by getting them to resign or abstain from voting in a floor test. Therefore, it has moved its lawmakers from Bengaluru to Hyderabad, the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state’s capital. The lawmakers spent May 16-17 in two different hotels in Bengaluru.

The move to sequester the the 100-odd lawmakers of Congress-JDS was taken to prevent the BJP from luring them as soon as it became clear that Governor Vajubhai Vala was going to invite BS Yeddyurappa to form government, NDTV reported.

Both the Congress Party and the BJP had campaigned hard to win this territory, home to the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, two dominant castes accounting for 27 percent of the state’s population, who can turn the poll results around. So far, Karnataka has had five chief ministers from the Vokkaliga community, and seven from among the Lingayat community.

Rahul Gandhi spearheaded a high-decibel campaign, holding as many as 20 meetings, across the state. His mother Sonia Gandhi, who was the Congress chief for the longest period, also addressed an election rally in Karnataka, a first in over two years.

The current elections are being seen as a preview for both – the BJP and the Congress – ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections. The year will also see State Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

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Lamat R Hasan
About the Author: Lamat is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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