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Now, let the house decide - The Economic Times

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar ()
March 4, 1998

Title: Now, let the house decide
Author: Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: March 4, 1998

What procedure should the President follow, now that Parliament
is hung? If we regard pre-election combines as the ones that
matter, the BJP and its allies form the biggest group. But, if we
consider post-electoral combines, the Congress and most of the
United Front may form the biggest group. Which of the two should
have the first claim?

No categorical answer is possible on either moral or practical
grounds. Some say a pre-election combine is likely to be more
stable than a post-election one. But, the 1977 experiment of not
just a pre-election coalition but actual merger proved to be
highly unstable, and so was the 1989 pre-election combine of Mr V
P Singh.

Besides, consider a situation where a pre-election coalition gets
230 seats and a post-election combine of other parties, 300
seats. Would it not be ridiculous to ignore the claims of the

In 1996, the President called on the single largest party (the
BJP) to have a try, and when the BJP failed, he gave the UF (a
post-electoral combine) a chance. That precedent leaves unclear
what the President should do this time. In 1996, the Congress
said that it was not in the race, and by the time it got round to
supporting the UF, the BJP had been given the first bite at the
cherry. So, even after taking into consideration the 1996
procedure, both the BJP and Congress-UF can argue that they
deserve priority. Giving either of them first chance will lead to
accusations of foul play.

Since hung Parliaments may be here to stay, we need to fashion a
transparent and fair procedure to avoid accusations of
favouritism. This should not be related directly to the current
impasse, but hold for all future polls. The Supreme Court ruling
in the Jagadambika Pal case shows the way. It says such issues
should be settled by a composite test on the floor of the House,
without giving primacy in advance to the claims of either

By analogy, Mr Gujral should continue to be the caretaker Prime
Minister until Parliament convenes and chooses a new leader. This
takes away any suggestion of bias, and makes it impossible for a
partial President to fix matters in favour of a particular party.
If the President calls on any minority group to form a
government, he places that party in a very strong position to buy
or pressure others to gain a majority. A floor test has the great
advantage of ensuring a level-playing field for all. It will not
prevent horse-trading, but will ensure that no party is put hi a
commanding position to buy horses.

This may not settle the matter conclusively. None of the combines
might win an absolute majority. Then, the combine with the
largest number of votes should be asked to try and form a
government; and if it fails, the second largest combine and so
on. Such a procedure will be an improvement on the 1996 one,
relieving the President of making a tricky choice which could be

Mr K R Narayanan has a reputation for impartiality, but this may
not be true of future Presidents. So, let Mr Narayanan ask the
House to have the final word.

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