Market For Defectors
By Poonam I Kaushish
In these hot climes, political India is feeling the heat and how! One doesn’t know who is sleeping with whom, who is jumping from one bed to another, as friends and enemies are all rolled into one. Underscoring that in rajniti there are no permanent friends or enemies only permanent interests with power being the glue to a raj gaddi. Undeniably, defections are the new normal!
Last week, India stood testimony to another ring-a-ring-roses with BJP’s Mukul Roy’s ghar wapsi to Mamata’s Trinmool followed by Congress small UP Brahmin neta Jitin Prasad flip to BJP and 5 MPs of Chirag Paswan’s LJP declaring themselves as the real Party leaving him holding the can.
At one level, one could argue that Mamata was paying back BJP in its own coin after mass desertions from TMC pre-Assembly polls, yet at another, those who switch sides are not important in themselves but the act of switching is. Prasad’s departure from the Congress only points to it being rudderless and sinking ship.
But by welcoming turncoats, all is not hunky dory for BJP. It faces organizational challenges as there is unease among old and loyal cadres in Bengal, MP and Karnataka. Party workers led a protest march in Kolkatta. In MP and Karnataka even as Shivraj Chouhan and Yediyurappa successfully dethroned Congress and JD(S)-Congress Governments by engineering defections with the help of Jyotiraditya Scindia brood of 25 MLAs and 15 MLAs respectively, their Ministerial bounty has left Saffronites angry.
Today, BJP controls a major chunk of India’s political landscape with its ‘mahagathbandhan’ of turncoats with Congress’s stocks crashing to a handful of States. True, these defections have got the Party new States and constituencies where it had little presence, North East, West Bengal and Andhra. But the changeover comes without any guarantee and for a few, it is turning out to be a one-way ticket to obscurity. Plainly, rajniti is all about depleting the strength of the rival. Once that purpose is fulfilled, they discard you.
Politicians girgit-like transfer loyalties from one Party to another based on winnability. The modus operandi: Paisa and satta bargains are struck, depending on value of legislators, who switch sides devoid of ‘meeting of minds’ pretensions, common ideology, principles or personal fondness.
Patronage, opportunism and clout is the jam that keeps swarm of hoppers together with its new benefactors whereby legislators poaching is extolled as smart political management: use of State machinery for intimidation etc is commended as resourcefulness. The winner can commit no sin; a defector crossing to the ruling camp stands cleansed of all guilt and criminality to fulfil their lust for power.
Data analysed by Association for Democratic Reforms is revealing: Nearly 182 MLAs (45%) of 405 who switched Parties and contested elections again between 2016-20 joined BJP while 170 MLAs (42%) left Congress. Resulting in the fall of MP, Manipur, Goa, Arunachal and Karnataka Governments. Only 18 (4.4%) BJP MLAs defected.
Interestingly, of 357 MLAs who defected to contest Assembly elections only 170 (48%) emerged victorious. But in Assemblies bye-elections 39 (81%) of 48 defectors got re-elected. During the corresponding period 38 MPs, 12 Lok Sabha and 16 Rajya Sabha defected to re-contest polls. Of these 5 (41.7%) left BJP and joined another Party during the 2019 elections. Yet, none who contested polls again won. Of 16 who switched sides in Rajya Sabha 10 (62.5%) joined BJP of whom 7 (43.8%) were Congressmen. All defectors were reelected. Of 433 MLAs and MPs who switched 52% won.
Certainly, the 1985 Anti-Defection law did act as a speed-breaker but only temporary, as the ruling Party allowed it to be violated by anointing its MP or MLA as Speaker. The law says a defector can either resign or be disqualified by the Speaker on the basis of a petition by another member of the House. So if the defection suits the ruling Party then the Speaker accepts the MLA’s resignation without looking into the motive behind it, obversely disqualifies him if it runs contrary to the Party’s wishes.
Moreover, Telangana and Goa underscored that every loophole was exploited — both in Speaker’s and legislature’s conduct. In 2019, 12 of 18 Congress MLAs merged with the ruling TRS in Telangana which was endorsed by the Chief Minister and accepted by the Speaker, thereby making a mockery of the Tenth Schedule’s Para 4 which states the original Party should merge with another Party first. As there was no evidence of the Congress merging with the TRS, it is not a legally recognisable merger.
In Goa 10 Congress MLAs jumped ship to the BJP with three made Ministers taking the total to a comfortable 27 in a 40 MLAs Assembly. In Andhra TDP MLAs are queuing to board BJP bandwagon. A similar strain runs across India with various types of chameleons crossing Party floors, the colour of politics is changing.
A sense of de ja vu overwhelms. Reminiscent of the 1967 Aya Ram Gaya Ram culture when Gaya Lal an Independent MLA in Haryana switched three Parties in 15 days. Followed by Bhajan Lal who hijacked his Janata Party Government to Congress, thereby opening the floodgates of revolving door politics and institutionalizing it through Indira Gandhi’s 60s-80s. Elucidated by JMM Suraj Mandal in the Lok Sabha 1993, “Paisa boriyoin mein atta hai….Do saandh ke beech ek bachra kya kare?”
Bringing things to farcical charades where defecting legislators switch sides with some being anointed “Opposition Ministers in Government” even before they officially changed Parties with Speakers looking the other way. Worse, nobody queries them of what happened to the commitments they promised to abide and uphold, serve society and work for peoples’ upliftment. Were they merely posturing?
In a milieu where Parties multiply like amoeba, splits have become the rule whereby it is easier to ‘buy’ a legislator than fight polls and where paper tigers sell their political soul to the highest bidder taking giant strides as king makers in the political nautanki. The never ending ‘hunger for power, muscle and money’ has become the touchstone of rajniti today.
Clearly, until and unless the ‘politics of convenience and self-gain’ is not reined in this mockery of democracy will deteriorate further. Time now to plug loop-holes in the Anti-Defection law as the ‘Conduct of Politics’ necessitates fairness, freedom, reliability, equality, integrity, honesty, and credibility. It remains to be seen if our leaders and Parties will restart practicing politics of conviction, courage and consensus.
What next? One way is to debar defectors from becoming Ministers and holding any public office or remunerative post at the Centre or States until the next poll. Two, votes cast by defectors to topple a Government should be treated as invalid. Three, bring a new law which says that there will be no defections or resignations and when there is one it automatically needs a fresh election.
In the ultimate, defections need to be effectively tackled. Specially as we Indians have an infamous genius for driving a coach and six through any law. It remains to be seen if in the bheed of opportunistic turncoats, the murmur of ideology, beliefs and honesty will find favour. Gaddi and Ghaddari must not go together. Can we put an end to political harlotry? — INFA