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Karnataka & Goa defections show principles be damned, as long as one can get power

The ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ syndrome is back, and it is infecting Indian politicians more than ever.

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The string of resignations from the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance in Karnataka and defections of Goa Congress MLAs to the BJP is ThePrint’s newsmaker of the week.

Last year, the Congress-JD(S) alliance had managed to cobble together necessary numbers to form the government, despite the BJP having emerged as the single-largest bloc with 105 seats in the 224-member assembly after the assembly elections.

Never willing to be outwitted, the BJP has since made methodical attempts to grab power in the state, and the resignation of 16 MLAs from the ruling alliance is unmistakably a step in that direction.

But it isn’t just Karnataka that is witnessing this trend – the defection bug seems to be spreading. In Goa, 10 of the 15 Congress MLAs have also sought merger with the BJP.

Also read: What an Indian law can do to MLAs defecting in Karnataka & Goa – nothing

The chaos in the Congress party, the leadership muddle and its uncertain future seem to have prompted several of its leaders to jump ship, hoping to find greater stability and a more definite shot at power.

Defections in Indian politics, however, are hardly a new trend. Brought into vogue by Haryana MLA Gaya Lal in the late 1960s, it came to be known as the ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ syndrome. In 1967, Gaya Lal infamously changed his party twice within the same day, and thrice in 15 days, getting immortalised with the phrase that has come to define the defection or turncoat phenomenon.

Hoping to arrest the trend, or at least ensure a degree of regulation, Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government in 1985 inserted the Tenth Schedule in the Constitution that laid down the procedure under which legislators could be disqualified on grounds of defection. With that, the anti-defection law was born.

Decades later, however, not much seems to have changed. Defections remain common, with defectors unapologetically changing sides on a whim. Just last month, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) faced the brunt when four of its Rajya Sabha MPs quit the party to join the BJP.

Also read: Karnataka & Goa Congress defections: Political opportunism or did ideology never matter?

While it may be more of a norm than an aberration in Indian politics, what however does stand out is the surge of defections over the past few years, which can loosely be traced back to the stupendous rise of the BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The party, with its cut-throat and torridly ambitious approach, has made it a mission to ensure it is in power everywhere possible – either by winning elections or by bringing in rebels from other parties to form governments.

While Karnataka is a more current example, the BJP’s rise to power in Arunachal Pradesh is a perfect instance of this phenomenon. Or take Assam, for instance, where the party had no base initially but is now a dominant force, thanks to former Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma’s strategic politics as well as other rebels he brought with him. In Tripura, the BJP built its organisation almost entirely by bringing in Congress workers to its side. The Trinamool Congress rebels in West Bengal joining the BJP is a way for the party to add weight to its presence in a state it now wants to conquer.

Also read: As more Karnataka MLAs resign, do defectors win elections? Data holds the answer

But defections aren’t just about beefing up numbers. They have other consequences too, and most important among them is how they may end up ‘diluting’ a party’s core. The BJP, for instance, is a staunch cadre-based party with an ideology as the pivot, but the string of ‘outsiders’ means a gradual easing out – something the hardcore BJP worker or old school leader often points out these days.

Defections also underscore the question of ethics and morals, of how a politician’s mere thirst for greener pastures overrides everything else and whether politics really should be about just being on the winning side.

As it stands, ideology and ethics hardly seem to be priority. Principles be damned, as long as one can be in power.

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  1. Congress is at last reaping what Indira sowed in 1980 with Bhajan Lal defecting from the Janata Party with all the flock, and creating the saga of “Aaya Ram, gaya Ram”, with her full blessings and grace. In all through the succeeding years, Congress has never abandoned this practice and has itself frequently assumed power using this subterfuge. BJP is relatively a new comer and a baby at the game. Why blame them when the inspiration is the accusers themselves?

  2. One of the seven social evils that Gandhiji had warned against is politics without principles. The BJP seems to epitomize that. Several of the defectors in Karnataka and Goa are known to be either corrupt or having serious criminal charges against them. So much for the BJP claiming to be a party with a difference. The only difference is in the magnitude of its wrongful actions.

  3. A Party with difference, given the opportunity, has come to be seen like any other. The study syllabus of Political Science in this country has come a long way teaching students that the BJP and the Communists are different from other political parties in our country. And the difference has been two fold – One, the party is strictly ideology and cadre based would not compromise on those and Two, there is strictest of Discipline and Accountability in the party which is unmatched. Both had so far kept the party largely distinguished from others. Not any more. The party is seen to be as average as any other – Nothing special about BJP anymore as a Party with a difference!
    This has also confirmed unambiguously that the party is impatient and fully compromising in ensuring it’s govt everywhere. It can even put it’s boards and nameplates anywhere without any care for the Brand’s image or quality. It has no copyright as well and anyone with numbers can take it for granted for anything. This has also proved beyond doubts that BJP has turned into a merely power game player party. It does not hesitate to deny proportionate power share to its allies at the centre where it has numbers but will accept disproportionate share to defectors in the states to get the numbers. It does not hesitate even to deny due rewards to its own core members who have struggled for it for years to make the BJP what it is today and over all it has proved that it actually believes in Mechiavellian thought of power grabbing than to the professed Gandhian ethos. Kudos to Amit Sah ji and the TEAM as they have won but alas! THE BJP has lost in the process – it does not remain the same BJP.
    Other than the general erosion of the basic values of the party, the results will be many fold, the two of which will be noticable – One, the party’s decision making body would not give entry to these newcomer power seekers to its core bodies and Two, these people would be just be utilized by the party with real powers vesting with core leaders.
    As it is, the party had so far double standards for the Leaders with RSS background and for those without it. Now this new specise would be added to that – those of Aaya Rams and Gaya Rams. It will keep a fair margin for this specise as well.
    This is going to make the party more vulnerable too. There will be increasing corruption too in the power as the BJP would be weak towards them and would keep it’s eyes closed while they indulge in corrupt practices as well.
    And it fully appears that the BJP, though too critical of Congress, has not learnt anything from the disaster it has faced of it’s blunders. Congress too in its Glory days opened it’s gate wide for everyone and eventually it did not remain the Congress.
    God forbid, the BJP is not overtaken by ‘others’ and the true BJP just disappears! The number game it is so proudly playing has already been played too well by the Congress for years and there is nothing unique in this game. People who really love and supported BJP so heartily are definitely not taking this so nicely!

  4. When this becomes so in your face, it will be difficult to sustain the messaging that this is a government that works tirelessly for the poor, is determined to root out corruption, should be trusted implicitly to protect the public purse from those who would wish to steal from it.

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