Election Lost, But Won

Ramesh Menon Ramesh Menon
01 Mar 2021

What is it that makes the BJP reportedly engineer defections in various States where there are non-BJP governments? Is it to grab power at any cost even if it means throwing ethics to the winds? Is it a part of the larger game plan of ensuring a Congress-mukt Bharat as they have always said? Is it to ensure that there is just no opposition from the states so that it could go ahead with its strategies to create a political system where there is just one party that can call the shots and the opposition is there just to help label the country as a democracy? Is it to make elections look irrelevant as even if it loses, it ultimately wins? All these questions are relevant.

Time and again in the last six years, India has seen numerous governments fall. We have seen how an overly aggressive BJP has trumped numerous Congress governments and captured power after failing to secure a mandate that would give them the majority to form a government. We saw that in Madhya Pradesh. We saw it in Manipur. We saw it in Goa. We saw it in Karnataka and recently we saw it in Puducherry. But despite seeing the same strategy of capturing power despite losing the popular mandate, there was little shock. We have come to accept it as if it is the new normal. It went against all the tenets of democracy, but there was little public uproar.  The sudden fall of the Puducherry government was in the headlines only on the day it happened.

Why did it not horrify us? Is this the kind of political culture we want? Look at what happened in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress won a mandate and formed a government under chief minister Kamal Nath. But the BJP got Jyotiraditya Scindia, one of the most promising Congress leaders in India, to resign along with other Congress MLAs to plunge Kamal Nath’s government into a crisis as he lost his majority in the assembly. Shivraj Singh Chouhan was back as the BJP chief minister once again ruling the state. He got the Congress defectors who had joined the BJP to contest on BJP tickets as their erstwhile seats were vacant. Most of them got elected. That is the point:  Even the electorate is not punishing the defectors. You just cannot blame the politicians. The electorate should be enforcing ethics in public life and not rewarding those who violate basic principles and bring instability to governance. Many of the defectors are today cabinet ministers in Madhya Pradesh!   So, the message is loud and clear: Help the BJP capture power in states where they are in the opposition and get rewarded.

The BJP did try hard in both Maharashtra and Rajasthan to form governments by getting legislators to switch loyalties, but it failed after almost succeeding.

The Puducherry Saga

The mad scramble for capturing power was more than visible in Puducherry where elections are going to be held soon. But the idea was to ensure that the Congress is not in power when the elections are held. President’s rule has been clamped there. 

What has happened in Puducherry needs some detailing as it is recent and shows the extent of how politics is playing out in the world’s largest democracy. Actually, there was no need to topple the government which has been ineffective as Lieutenant Governor Dr. Kiran Bedi was calling the shots and had reduced Chief Minister V Narayanasamy’s government in the Union Territory into a joke. She almost ran a parallel government calling in officers to report to her on various administrative matters. Narayanasamy said on his last day in office that he had fought her every single day. He even had complained to President Ram Nath Kovind how she was not allowing him to discharge his functions due to her interference in governance matters.

He wanted her to be removed; and the Centre removed her but not because of Narayanasamy’s demand. It was a clever ploy to remove her before the elections as the Congress plank was that the Centre had got Bedi to ensure that the Congress government would not be able to freely rule and deliver on its promises. Now that Bedi is out, this election ploy will not work. They also got a Tamilian Dr. Tamilsai Soundararajan who has been given the additional charge of Puducherry; it panders to the regional sentiment which is strong in both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. 

It is still not clear why the Centre showed the door to Bedi who did all she could to undermine the authority of the Chief Minister and show that she was the ultimate authority. Sources say she was removed as the BJP wanted to neutralise the propaganda of Narayanasamy and the Congress that he was not allowed to work freely. By removing Bedi overnight, the BJP robbed him of his main campaign tool. Talking of Bedi’s role at election meetings will not draw any sympathy as she is no more around. 

The BJP will not win enough seats in the coming Puducherry elections to form a government, but will make it tough for the Congress to make a comeback. South India for the first time in four decades does not have a single state that is ruled by the Congress. There are only three states that have Congress-led governments: Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan.

Rajasthan Govt. Survived

Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan, proved to be smarter than the BJP leaders who were planning to woo Sachin Pilot into an opposition camp, get at least 30 of the Congress members to join him, and then topple Gehlot. But it did not work that way.  

Moving swiftly, Gehlot ensured that the flock of Congressmen stayed with him, that 30 others did not back Pilot, and also got the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan Police to file FIRs against suspended Congress MLAs Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh who were in touch with the BJP. An FIR was also filed against Union Minister G S Shekhawat who was alleged to be involved in getting Congressmen to cross over during a trust vote.  

When we saw in November 2019 how the JD (U)-Congress coalition in Karnataka was made to collapse as 17 MLAs resigned with BJP returning to power in a state where they had not got the mandate, one thing that stood out in its stark reality was that elections are becoming irrelevant. It is a serious development that threatens the very idea of democracy and the will of the people.  If horse-trading is going to determine the political future of India and its people, there is little hope.  It is akin to cheating the electorate. Time and again, the BJP has shown how it wins when it actually loses an election.

Anti-Defection Law does not work

As Indian politics got murky more than four decades ago as defections were playing havoc in making governments collapse, the anti-defection law was brought in. Politicians were switching sides, getting rewarded with ministerial berths and there were allegations of how money played a crucial part in making them switch. It was money that talked, not ideology.  Unless political parties scrupulously follow an ethical code, no anti-defection law will work.

The anti-defection law was brought by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. It was recommended by Dinesh Goswami Committee on electoral reforms. Rajiv argued while pushing for the Bill that it was high time such a law came in.  

The Anti-Defection Law is contained in the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. It came into effect in March 1995 after being enacted by Parliament. The 10th Schedule says that if there is a merger between two political parties and two-thirds of the members of a legislature party agree to it, they would not be disqualified. But today, as it is difficult to get two-thirds to move as a block, political parties get the dissenters to resign promising them tickets and other sops once they are in power. Politicians have figured a way to skirt the anti-defection law by not defecting but resigning, joining the party that is in power, contesting elections on the party ticket, and then getting into bargaining positions of power.

The anti-defection law was enshrined in the Constitution by the 52nd Amendment, which was later amended by the 91st Constitution (Amendment) Act, in 2003. The sum and substance of these constitutional amendments are that a member of the legislature, whether of the Union or the State Legislature, shall be disqualified if she or he is disqualified under the Tenth Schedule. The precise grounds for disqualification of a legislator, as per the Tenth Schedule are, if she or he has voluntarily given up the membership of such political party, or if they vote or abstain from voting in the House contrary to the direction of the whip issued by the political party of which they are members.

Devender Singh Aswal, former Additional Secretary of the Lok Sabha, points out that the anti-defection law has been brazenly thwarted, time and again and must now be scrapped or reviewed.   “The river of power politics seems to be a great cleansing purgatory where the stains of defections are rewarded as heroic exploits.  The voters too seem to forgive and forget as all the defectors in MP got re-elected.  It all depends on how the political parties forge their new narrative at each electoral battle to win over the voters. This also reinforces the view of some jurists who believe that anti-defection law is undemocratic and promotive of dictatorship and therefore should be repealed altogether,” he said.

Raw ambition and easy corruption have ensured that politics today has degenerated into a business and not a vocation to serve the electorate or build the nation.

Opposition Ineffective

Having said this, it is also important to underline how the Congress has failed in the last six years to build itself into emerging as a credible opposition and be seen as a viable alternative. The party is in shambles. Any political novice will tell you that Sonia Gandhi cannot inspire the party and Rahul Gandhi has been found wanting. Most of the time he seems disinterested and is not able to bind the party together. An effort was made by senior Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Shashi Tharoor, Kapil Sibal, Veerappa Moily, Prithviraj Chauhan, and others to demand organisational changes in the party. They wanted party elections to be held. The fact that they were all sidelined by Sonia and Rahul was predictable. Even after numerous defeats and losing state after state, there is no effort to revitalise the party and get its grassroots working. The party is in rigor mortis and it is advantage BJP.  Unless the Congress puts its act together, the results in the next parliamentary elections barely four years away is a foregone conclusion.

(Ramesh Menon is a recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism. He is an author of six books, has produced numerous documentary films, is an educator and editor-in-chief of The Leaflet.)

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