Politics of oppurtunism

Market for Defectors
By Poonam I Kaushish

In the monsoon season it’s raining Party splitting. One doesn’t know who is sleeping with whom and who is jumping from one bed to another, as friends and enemies are all rolled into one. After all, attracting and accepting elected legislators seems to be the easiest and fastest strategy to come to power. Worse, in these artificially made alignments, we are persuaded to believe that ends justify means. Undeniably, defections are the new black of political morality.
First of the mark was Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena where Ekant Shinde split with 40 MLAs dethroned the Thackeray-NCP-Congress led MVA and formed a Government with Fadnavis’s BJP. With both factions proceeding to disqualify MLAs opposed to them, Supreme Court stayed proceedings till formation of a new Bench.
Add to this, 16 Party MPs have asked Thackeray to support NDA’s Presidential candidate while four petitions are pending before the Court. Besides disqualification, one has challenged the “illegal” summoning of Assembly by the Governor, another the Speaker’s order removing Thackeray MLAs from posts of Party leader and Chief Whip and fourth Speaker recognizing the whip nominated by Shinde.
In Goa the pendulum swings from Congress to BJP as 6 MLAs out of 11 disassociated from the Party but to avoid action under the Anti Defection Law need another two on their side to cross over. As of now BJP, reportedly behind the break-up has put merger plans on hold till the requisite number and post Assembly session.
The ensuing days are bound to unfold more political liaisons which promise to be full of intrigue, double-talk back-stabbing etc by defecting MLAs along-with Parties, symptomatic of today’s polity. Thereby, exposing the hollowness of their political commitment to satiate narrow selfish ends for power to the exclusion of ideological and ethical considerations.
Remember last year West Bengal and Puducherry were plagued by defections, while 2020 stands testimony to brazen horse-trading with senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia along-with 22 loyalist MLAs joining BJP resulting in Kamal Nath’s Government downfall and coronation of Shivraj Chauhan’s as Chief Minister.
Ditto in Karnataka 2019 when 15 Congress-JD(S) MLAs switched to BJP, kicked out Kumaraswamy’s Government and installed Yediruppa’s Sarkar. Notwithstanding, fundamentally violating the democratic principle: Voters’ rights to choose their Governments via the ballot box. Again 4 TDP Rajya Sabha MPs out of 6 attached themselves to BJP and 10 of 15 Congress MLAs jumped ship to BJP in Goa with three sworn as Ministers. And this was all legal since it met the Anti- Defection Law’s two-thirds limit.
All classic instances of a deep flaw in the Tenth Schedule which allows one-third members of a Legislative Party to split without inviting the disqualification tag. Think, Congress and TDP had not split nor it’s Legislature and Parliamentary Party or Lok Sabha MPs so how did 10 MLAs and 4 MPs constitute a merger? In 2017 BJP came to power in Arunachal after Chief Minister Khandu switched loyalties
Reminiscent of 1967 Aya Ram Gaya Ram culture when Gaya Lal a Haryana Independent MLA switched three Parties in 15 days. Followed by Bhajan Lal who hijacked his Janata Party Government to Congress, thereby opening the floodgates of defection and institutionalizing it through Indira Gandhi’s 60s-80s.
During 1967-1983 Parliament saw 162 defections and State Assemblies 2,700 with 212 defectors rewarded as Ministers and 15 became Chief Ministers, according to PRS Legislative Research. Several of them did so more than once, some even five times. One MLA defected five times to be a Minister for only five days. Their purchasing price governed by the law of diminishing returns. Elucidated by JMM’s Suraj Mandal in Lok Sabha 1993, “Paisa boriyoin mein atta hai!”
All, with clinical precision devoid of pretensions, of ‘meeting of minds’, principles or personal fondness. Patronage, opportunism and a share of the power pie is the glue that keeps the swarm of hoppers together with its new benefactors and makes incongruent Parties come together whereby poaching of legislators is extolled as smart political management: money for allurement, use of State machinery for intimidation etc are commended as resourcefulness.
Questionably, is defection a Constitutional sin? Yes, averred Supreme Court in Uttarakhand Chief Minister Rawat’s case 2017. Stating “unholy treacheries are masked as tacit mergers or wholesale defections.” But are Constitutionally accepted thanks to political compulsions, politics of convenience and opportunism facilitating them.
Consequently, with Parties multiplying 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 are dubbed as survivors not defectors taking giant strides as king makers in the political nautanki.
Sure, one can say this is what democracy is all about. Changing Parties is a part of politics. But we must distinguish between politics of principles and politics without principles. Of dedicated leaders not ram-shackled fair-weather partners in corruption and crime. The ‘Conduct of Politics’ necessitates reliability, integrity, credibility, conviction and courage.
Besides, are short term gains worth long-term costs? Can one brush away this display of naked careerism as admiration worthy of a political cause or cynically accept it? Is it a deliberate conspiracy to create defects in the law to facilitate defection based manipulations and strategies?
Clearly, with the present law unable to control defections, reduce money impact and lure of office we urgently need to tighten and plug glaring loopholes in the Anti-Defection Law, notwithstanding, it tantamount to implementing a legal solution to solve a political problem.
Our lawmakers need to change the Tenth Schedule and elucidate defections in the parent Party or its legislative wing and which constitutes a split? The requirement of a preceding split in the organizational Party could prove an effective deterrent. Clarify what is a candidate’s status if he ditches his Party pre-election and joins the rival can he be liable for disqualification if elected?
True, law does not prohibit defection but not only should a legislator stand disqualified but also disallowed to contest polls for 10 years as by defecting he has subverted the peoples mandate. Presently, even if a defector is denied ministerial and remunerative posts, he can be rewarded in cash and kind for his support.
What next? It is a long trudge as there seems to be no one who dares to bite the defection hand that feeds it. Specially as we have an infamous genius for driving a coach and six through any law. Politics without ethics is dangerous for democracy as it is produces distrust at all levels where-under even the gutter seems cleaner than today’s politics. It remains to be seen if in the bheed of opportunistic turncoats, the murmur of ideology, beliefs and honesty will find favour. Gaddi and Gaddari must not go together. — INFA