The Madhya Pradesh governor’s demand that the Kamal Nath government should prove its majority on Tuesday is not just improper but also lacks legitimacy. The right course in Madhya Pradesh is for the leader of the Opposition to move a vote of no confidence against the Congress government. The practical outcome might not be different in either case, but there are vital principles at stake.

Once a government has been installed and proves the legislature’s support, the only condition in which it can be asked to go is when the Opposition moves a vote of no confidence against it and the no-trust vote passes in the House. The notion that a chief minister should prove his or her majority through a trust vote because the Governor feels he/she no longer enjoys a majority is absurd.

The Constitution of India does not preclude the existence of a minority government. It accepts that there could be contingencies in which a government does not have an absolute majority in the legislature, but there is no coherent Opposition that would be able to cobble together a majority of its own either.

The PV Narasimha Rao government, which launched India’s economic reforms and reconfigured foreign policy in the wake of the collapse of both the Soviet Union and the paradigm of geopolitics that had prevailed for more than four decades, was a minority government. Halfway through its term, the Opposition moved a vote of no confidence against it and only then did the government acquire a majority, by bribing Members of Parliament from Jharkhand.

It is possible to make the case that the minority government was more virtuous a formation than the inert majority regime in the government’s second term — it held elections in terror-stricken Kashmir and Punjab, although it failed to prevent demolition of the Babri mosque, dispensed with the World Bank-led Aid India consortium on which ‘socialistic’ India depended for the economy’s foreign exchange requirement, did the preparatory work for conducting nuclear tests, signed on to the World Trade Organisation, agreeing to lift quantitative restrictions on imports and amend intellectual property laws, opened up India’s capital markets to foreign portfolio investment, instituted an independent capital markets regulator, initiated mobile telephony roping in the private sector and laid the foundations for India’s subsequent rapid growth.

The short point is that a minority government in itself is neither illegitimate nor untenable. It becomes untenable the moment the Opposition musters the wherewithal to vote it out.

This is the principle that should govern the fate of the Kamal Nath government in Bhopal as well. If the Opposition thinks the chief minister no longer enjoys the legislature’s support, it should move a vote of no confidence against Kamal Nath and the House should vote on the motion. The House would decide whether it supports the chief minister or not.

The governor’s peremptory demand that the chief minister prove his majority with one day’s notice delegitimises the idea of a minority government, as if Madhya Pradesh would suddenly be struck a plague of locusts or some such calamity if it suffered even a brief period of minority rule. If the government has lost its majority, the proper way to establish that loss of legitimacy is by the Opposition moving a no-trust motion against the government, not by imperious gubernatorial intervention.

Let democracy get on with it, even if of the flawed kind in which politicians betray the mandate they received from their voters and money and greed prevail, rather than the popular mandate.

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