Now even the Supreme Court’s seal is on it that the Congress got complacent and took matters lightly in Goa and Manipur, the two states where it had emerged as the largest party but missed the bus to stake claims. The obvious consequence to it is that a BJP chief minister has taken oath in Goa and the party’s government will be formed in Manipur with the swearing-in scheduled for tomorrow.
While hearing a Congress petition against the oath-taking ceremony of Manohar Parrikar in Goa, a special Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar took the Congress to task for reacting late and refused to stay Parrikar’s swearing-in. The top court observed that a ‘simple floor test’ can take care of issues raised in the petition. As directed by the Supreme Court, Manohar Parrikar led BJP government will have to prove its majority in the House on March 16.
On the counting day, after the BJP’s massive victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and impressive show in Uttarakhand, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had some words of advice for the BJP leadership. He tweeted that the BJP was in power in two of the five states where elections were held and it lost both and therefore the party ‘shouldn’t be too complacent for 2019’ when the next parliamentary polls will be held.
But it seems, the Congress leadership got complacent with the poll results as it failed to move before the BJP in staking claims to form governments even if Amit Shah, the BJP president, had announced after the results came in that the BJP was going to form government in four states, i.e., Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
Even though Digvijay Singh, Goa in-charge of the Congress party, has been camping in Goa, the party failed to make its move and arrange numbers to stake claim. While the Congress was still contemplating its moves, the BJP met Goa Governor Mridula Sinha with a list 21 MLAs to stake its claim to form the government in the state with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar as its chief minister. Now he is back as CM and the BJP is claiming to have support of 23 MLAs. This is a point where the Congress clearly failed, a fact highlighted by the Supreme Court, which said the Congress didn’t approach the Governor or the Supreme Court with its list and affidavits of the supporting MLAs.
Parrikar had resigned from the CM position in November 2014 to join Narendra Modi’s union cabinet. This will be his fourth term as Goa’s chief minister. His first two terms were from 2000 to 2002 and from 2002 to 2005.
The BJP, the incumbents in the state, won 13 assembly seats this time, four less than Congress’ 17. To prove majority in the 40-member Goa House, support of 21 members was needed. Congress needed four MLAs to scale the gap while the BJP needed eight. And the BJP arranged its eight before the Congress could garner support of four MLAs.
The BJP claims to have support of three MLAs each of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward Party (GFP), two independents and lone NCP MLA. Then there are reports that some Congress MLAs are ready to defect to join the BJP. That the Congress has resigned to its fate becomes clear from its Goa in-charge Digvijay Singh’s reaction, who was earlier claiming to form the government, was quoted saying that the Congress was ready to sit in Opposition if the BJP had the numbers. Today, in an interview with a channel, senior Congress leader Kamal Nath accepted that the Congress was slow to act in Goa and Manipur and better chalked-out plans were needed.
The Congress’ hara-kiri is evident from the fact that some of the newly elected Congress MLAs have blamed the senior Congress leaders of ‘indecisiveness’ even if it had the mandate to stake claim first, an unacceptable delay that gave the BJP enough time to play its cards. Congress Valopi MLA Vishwajit Rane, who is son of the former CM Pratapsingh Rane, felt so letdown that he left the party saying he was ‘disillusioned’ with the party after its ‘shameful handling of the mandate’.
Manipur is the second state that is a missed opportunity for the Congress. Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla has invited the BJP leader N Biren Singh to form the government and his oath-taking ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow.
The Congress has been in power in the state since 2002 and even this time it emerged as the largest party winning 28 seats in the 60-member house. But the BJP’s performance is stunning here. The party that had not been able to open its account in the last polls in 2012, has emerged as the second largest party in this polls, winning 21 seats. But what is more remarkable is the fact that its vote share at 36.3% is more than Congress’ 35.1%, something that gives it the largest representation in the state. From 2.12% in 2012 to 36.3% in 2017, this is huge.
And thanks to the indecisiveness shown by the Congress here as well, the swift moves made by the BJP gave it the necessary edge and Imphal is going to have a BJP government next.
Both the BJP and the Congress are making claims and counterclaims. But certainly, the BJP has outsmarted the Congress in making first moves, be it parading the supporting MLAs before the Governor or holding joint presser with the National People’s Party (NPP). The Congress also claimed to have the NPP support but it was refuted by NPP chief Conrad Sangma.
In the 60-member strong Manipur legislative assembly, a simple house majority needs support of 31 MLAs. In a quick move, on March 12, the BJP approached the Governor with a delegation of MLAs including four NPP MLAs, lone MLA of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), lone TMC MLA and a Congress MLA who had defected. The BJP delegation also handed over a letter of support from the Naga People’s Front (NPF), an NDA alliance partner.
After it, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, like waking from a slumber, rushed to the Governor House to stake claim. He showed a letter on a plain paper with names of four NPP legislators in Congress’ support which was later junked by the NPP. Also, it is believed that the Governor asked Ibobi Singh to parade the four NPP MLAs to validate his claims. Then there are reports that around a dozen Congress MLAs are ready to defect to the BJP fold.
Sources say the Governor wanted to meet the four NPF MLAs personally before taking any decision. Today, NPF MLAs met the Governor and reiterated their party’s support for the BJP. That validated the count of 32 MLAs in BJP’s support. After it, the Governor invited the BJP to form the government.
DESPERATE LAST DITCH EFFORTS
In its last ditch effort, the Congress had moved to the Supreme Court challenging the invitation to Manohar Parrikar to form the government. But if we go by the Constitution’s interpretation of experts, inviting the largest party is more of a convention and the Governor is not bound to follow it if another political formation convinces him of having the required numbers.
It is left to the Governor’s discretion and wisdom to ensure that a stable government is formed, be it by the single largest party or a coalition of other parties, a fact reiterated by the Supreme Court during today’s hearing. The top court said that though it has become a Constitutional convention to invite the single largest party, the preference goes to them who show stable numbers.
Rapidly changing political developments have proved Shashi Tharoor wrong. It is not the BJP, but the Congress that has lost two states, i.e., Manipur and Uttarakhand. And unlike the BJP which lost one in Punjab, to gain four states in its fold, it could gain just one, i.e., Punjab. With these developments, the BJP and its allies now have governments in 17 states while the Congress and its allies have shrunk to just seven states.