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BJP will be biggest beneficiaries in cynical defection season

By Kumar Ketkar

Why do politicians defect to rival parties? The season of defections has begun with assembly elections in five states scheduled to be held in just a few weeks. A senior tribal leader of the Congress party in Chhattisgarh, Ram DayalUike, joined the BJP Saturday. He had won three times on the Congress ticket. Interestingly, he had defected from the BJP in 2000.
This is a repeat of the defection game carried out two years ago. At that time, it was the Assam assembly election, and three-time Congress MLA HimantaBiswaSarma joined the BJP. Like Uike, Sarma also blamed an indifferent Congress leadership for his exit. Both defections were believed to be engineered and processed by the self-styled Chanakya of the BJP, Amit Shah.
Narayan Rane, former Shiv Sena leader and their chief minister nearly two decades ago, defected to the Congress in 2005. He was a senior Congress minister for nearly a decade. Last year he defected again, and six months ago he was elected to the RajyaSabha on a BJP ticket. Political observers in Maharashtra have predicted that at least half a dozen Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Congress and Shiv Sena senior leaders will defect to the BJP in next few months.
Couple of months ago, ChandanMitra, a NarendraModi loyalist, joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Yet, ironically, the TMC continues to feel vulnerable. The NRC issue seems to be helping in re-consolidation of the Hindu community, say political observers. Even the AamAadmi Party (AAP) suffered defections from their ranks last year despite being in power. The lone BahujanSamaj Party (BSP) minister in the Karnataka coalition government resigned from his post last week.
Defections are not a new phenomenon. In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, defections were no less brazen. The entire Haryana assembly had defected wholesale, and that too twice. During the SamyuktaVidhayakDal and United Front days from 1967-70 and 1977-80, defections toppled governments, led to fresh alliances and split in parties.
These days, however, the grapevine says “fear is the key”. Many leaders in the opposition are believed to have been threatened by the so-called dreaded “file”. The file contains the “dark deeds” of the former ministers or current leaders.
The Income Tax authorities, the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI or the NIA will start inquiries if you don’t come to terms is a veiled or not-so-veiled threat, say observers. NCP leader ChhaganBhujbal was made into an example in Maharashtra. He was in jail for over two years. (At least one former minister has directly told me that he had only one option – join the BJP or go to jail.) Even ‘strongman’ SharadPawar could not protect him.
After blackmail or threats, the second explanation for defections, according to reporters who can distinguish between gossip and fact, is straightforward horse-trading.
This trend is likely to become so common over the next few months that it could make people even more cynical about the political system. Various anti-defection laws or media’s moral outrage have not been able to contain this menace. Generally, most defections have little to do with ideology, principles or moral dimension. Personal ambition or frustration defines the choice.
By and large, defections today are about one-way traffic to the BJP. (ChandanMitra, and one or two other leaders defecting from the BJP are exceptions). It is also true that barring rare cases, Communists do not defect. Not even “intra-defection”, from the CPI to the CPM or to the RSP.
But this is not true of all the Left. Socialists of various hues – Lohiates, Praja Socialists, J.P. followers, SSP types – have not only made defection an art form, but also provided a grand ideological wardrobe for switching sides. They have carved out new party organisations from the old bottle.
Political commentators often club all ‘Left-leaning’ parties as one block. This has never been true. Communists have often allied with various shades of the Socialists to try and form the so-called ‘Third Front’. But the inbreeding and cross-breeding that socialists engage in is a completely different political culture. Sometimes, it takes the form of caste, at other times, caste and class, and occasionally provincial or linguistic. And, of course, sometimes it is “anti-Congressism”.
Socialists of all varieties had been ‘anti-Communist’, primarily ‘anti-Soviet Union’. Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi were perceived as ‘pro-Soviet’ during the Cold War era. So, Socialists took a hard anti-Nehru and anti-Indira posture. That became the core of their anti-Congress politics. Indeed, the BJP itself was part of the anti-Congress front, either in the form of the Grand Alliance in 1971 or the Janata Party in 1977 or the Third Front or the National Front led by V.P. Singh. Even the AAP is in the same league.
Many pundits compare “anti-Congressism” with the newly coined “anti-BJPism”. That analogy is politically not valid, although commonly used. Almost all the so-called opposition parties, who may or may not ally with the Congress, have the ‘anti-Congress DNA’. Many of them aligned with the BJP before. They may want to overthrow the BJP but they are no friends of the Congress.
It is “anti-Congressism” that unites the Communists and the Socialists. But the Communists do not defect or form new party set-ups. Call them dogmatic or party apparatchiks, they have generally not defected to fulfil personal or caste ambition or joined identity-based political movements. Notwithstanding their electoral and even political setbacks, their trust quotient is much higher in the days of overall trust deficit of all other parties.
The individual and collective defections and bargains make the task of electoral prediction even more hazardous. It is difficult to put a value to the status of the defector and estimate his or her electoral clout. It would be more and more difficult in the coming days to do election forecasts. Modi and the BJP have been the biggest beneficiaries of cynicism and brazen “Laissez-faire” political market so far. It remains to be seen how the voters look at this new wave of organised and manipulated defections.