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.
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.
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.
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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