16 MAY 2018
With the Congress losing the mandate and the BJP not getting one, the JD(S) may get lucky
A three-way contest without a dominant campaign issue in a politically fragmented State was always going to be too close to call. As the last vote is counted in Karnataka, all the three major parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, and the Janata Dal (Secular), believe they have a right to stake claim to form the government. The Congress clearly lost the election, but the BJP could not win it. The JD(S) retained its core support base, and finished a respectable third. In such a situation, the contest continues beyond the announcement of the results. Quickly realising it had lost the mandate, theCongress wasted no time in reaching out to the JD(S) with a promise to back its leader H.D. Kumaraswamy for the chief ministership. In contrast, the BJP was slowed down by its own ambition. As the early trends showed it ahead in a majority of the seats, the BJP made no overtures to the JD(S), and sat quietly in the hope of finishing with an absolute majority. What the BJP did to the Congress in Manipur, Goa, and Meghalaya, the Congress is attempting to do to the BJP in Karnataka: steal the election from right under its nose. For the JD(S), the Congress offer is too good to be turned down. With a battle-bruised Congress ready to go to any extent to keep the BJP out of power, the JD(S) did not even have to bargain hard to stake claim for the chief ministership. The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, B.S. Yeddyurappa, might complain that the Congress is subverting the people’s mandate, but the fact is that no party has a mandate in a hung Assembly.
Actually, the Congress polled the single largest percentage of the votes (38), ahead of the BJP (36.2), improving on its 2013 share of 36.59%. But the BJP had a better vote-share to seats conversion, sweeping coastal Karnataka and Bombay-Karnataka, and finishing behind the JD(S) and the Congress in many constituencies in southern Karnataka. The three-way contest helped the BJP make the most of its Lingayat vote-base, as the controversy over the status of a religion for the Lingayat sect did not loosen the party’s hold in northern and central Karnataka. With the JD(S) emerging as a contender in the Assembly election, both the national parties slipped in terms of vote-share from what they polled in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Only convention and common sense dictate the actions of the Governor in a situation where no one party has a majority. Ordinarily, who gets the first shot at forming the government should not matter if neither group engages in engineering defections: the issue is best settled on the floor of the House in a confidence vote. But that is a big ‘if’. Karnataka can do without the spectacle of horse-trading, and much will depend on how Governor Vajubhai Vala handles the situation.
At last, a scheme
Cauvery basin States must quickly agree on an authority to apply the water-sharing award
Now that the Karnataka election is over, the Centre has finally mustered the courage to submit a draft scheme in the Supreme Court to implement the final decision on apportioning the Cauvery waters among the riparian States. The draft, which gives no name for the authority it proposes to create to monitor implementation of the Cauvery Tribunal’s final award, as modified by the Supreme Court, has been largely drawn from the Tribunal’s directions. It will be a two-tier structure, with an apex body charged with the power to ensure compliance with the final award, and a regulation committee that will monitor the field situation and water flow. The powers and functions of the authority are fairly comprehensive. Its powers would extend to apportionment, regulation and control of Cauvery waters, supervision of operations of reservoirs and regulation of water releases. The draft makes the authority’s decisions final and binding. However, there is an ambiguous clause: if the authority finds that any one of the States is not cooperative, it can seek the Centre’s help, and the Centre’s decision will be final and binding. This can be seen either as an enabling clause to resolve the situation when there is a stand-off, or as one that gives scope to the Centre to intervene on behalf of one State. To allay apprehensions of the Centre acting in a partisan manner, it would be better if it is not given the final say, but mandated to help in the implementation of the Tribunal’s award at all times.
There are a few differences between the Cauvery Management Board envisaged by the Tribunal and the authority proposed in the scheme. The Tribunal favoured the chairperson being an irrigation engineer with not less than 20 years of experience in water resources management, whereas the scheme says the chairperson could be a senior and eminent engineer with wide experience in water resources management or an officer in the rank of Secretary or Additional Secretary to the Union government. Similarly, the representatives from the four States would be administrators rather than engineers as proposed by the Tribunal. It is possible that Karnataka and Tamil Nadu may have differing views on the nature and powers of the authority, as well as its name and composition. But it is vital that all States accept the mechanism, and that the authority itself have adequate autonomy. The Cauvery dispute has dragged on for several decades, and it would be unfortunate if the implementation of a final decision arrived at through rigorous adjudication is not monitored by an independent authority. All States should agree to the broad contours of this scheme and comply with the authority’s decisions. The most welcome feature of such a mechanism is that an issue concerning the livelihood of thousands of farmers will be taken out of the political domain and entrusted to experts.