M Gautham Machaiah
The people of Karnataka have given a fractured mandate only two times in the history of the state and have regretted it on both occasions. With some pollsters predicting a hung assembly, it remains to be seen if the voters will commit the same mistake again or exercise their franchise decisively in favour of one party or the other.
The first time Karnataka witnessed mixed results was in 1983 when no party could obtain a simple majority of 113 members in the 224-seat assembly. The Janata Party (JP) which was the single largest block had secured only 95 seats. But the party acted with great alacrity when it air-dropped Ramakrishna Hegde, a master strategist who had not even contested the elections as the chief minister.
Hegde cobbled up a government with outside support from the BJP which had won 18 seats, the Left and a few independents formed the first ever non-Congress government in Karnataka. While Hegde soon became a darling of the masses, his biggest critic was the BJP’s state president AK Subbaiah who lost no opportunity to criticise and embarrass the government that his party was supporting.
The Janata Party fared poorly in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections and this gave the wily Hegde an excuse to dissolve the assembly on the grounds that he had lost the mandate of the people. In the assembly elections held in early 1985, JP emerged the single largest party with 139 members. The Congress which was burning the midnight oil to pull down the Hegde government saw its tally fall from 82 to 65, while the BJP could manage to win just two seats as against its previous score of 18. The people had rejected uncertainty and voted for stability.
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However, it was only in 2004 that Karnataka had a taste of its first coalition government. The Congress was led by SM Krishna, a very popular chief minister, but the party fared poorly with its seats falling from 132 in 1999 to 65 in 2004. Though BJP was the single largest party with 79 seats, the Congress which was outright rejected by the people formed the government with the support of the JD (S). Next, the JD (S) which had won the lowest of 58 seats came to power with BJP’s help after ditching the Congress mid-way. And finally, when it was the BJP’s turn to form the government, JD (S) pulled the plug, leading to a huge wave of sympathy in favour of BS Yeddyurappa.
This was one of the darkest periods of democracy where all parties had a shot at power without actually enjoying the complete mandate of the people. Once again the voters decided to act. This time they brought the BJP to power in 2008 with 110 seats, while the opportunistic JD (S) was punished with only 28 seats. Unfortunately, BJP squandered the mandate and the voters in 2013 reduced its seats to a mere 40, while giving the Congress 122.
The Karnataka voter is usually mature and does not repeat his mistakes. Will he once again submit himself to the vagaries of coalition politics or shout out his verdict loud and clear?
(The author is a political commentator and a senior journalist)