New Delhi: On Friday, five of Manipur’s six Janata Dal (United) legislators joined the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — weeks after the JD-U chief Nitish Kumar broke off its alliance with the BJP in Bihar. With this, the number of Members of Legislative Assembly and Members of Parliaments leaving their parties to join the BJP since 2014 has reached 211.
The five MLAs that joined the BJP were Khumukcham Joykishan (Thangmeiband constituency), Ngursanglur Sanate (Tipaimukh), Mohammed Achab Uddin (Jiribam), former Director General of Police-turned-politician L.M. Khaute, and Thangjam Arunkumar (Wangkhei). The only JD-U MLA who chose not to join the BJP was Mohammed Nasir, a legislator from Lilong.
For the BJP — a party that won 32 seats in Manipur’s 60-member assembly in the polls held earlier this year and also has the support of the National People’s Party (NPP) in the assembly — the induction of the five JD-U MLAs in Manipur (as well as another one in Arunachal in August) is a direct result of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, JD-U’s former national president, dumping it in Bihar last month.
The defections have reduced the JD-U’s representation in the Manipur assembly to one and are yet another testimony to the BJP being the most sought-after party for defectors.
An analysis of reports from the Association for Democratic Reforms, a New Delhi-based political and electoral reform non-profit, shows that 211 MLAs and MPs have joined the BJP between 2014 — when the BJP was first elected to power at the Centre — and 2022.
On the other hand, only 60 lawmakers — both MLAs and MPs — left the BJP during this period, the report shows.
The opposition parties accuse the BJP of using its “resources” — inducements — as well as the government agencies at its disposal.
Speaking to ThePrint about the latest defections from his party, JD-U spokesperson Parimal Kumar claimed that the BJP was “using its resources” to wean away JD-U members.
“This is dangerous for [the country’s] democracy,” he said. “[Those who were] part of an alliance with the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance are gradually leaving them on the grounds of violation of the constitutional principles, human rights violations and the non-fulfillment of their commitments.”
That’s also why JD-U parted ways with the BJP, Kumar said.
The BJP, meanwhile, accuses opposition parties — including JD-U — of not treating its leaders well.
“No self-respecting individual would want to stay in a party that’s centred on one family or one person,” BJP spokesperson Guruprakash Paswan told ThePrint. “Leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Jyotiraditya Scindia have come to the BJP because they were stuck. Because [they felt] claustrophobic in those parties.”
“JD-U has been the party of an individual since its inception. Any individual who wants to fulfill their political ambition would want to be a part of a party where they are respected,” he said, adding that if JD-U had any evidence of involuntary defections, they should challenge them in court.
“JD-U’s calling the recent defections unconstitutional,” he said. “We clearly remember when this used to happen. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha faced allegations of giving cash for votes.”
Where parties stand
An analysis of data from ADR reports shows that the Congress lost the most MLAs and MPs — 177 from 2014 to 2021 and 20 more before this year’s assembly elections in five states: Goa, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Uttarakhand.
Out of this number, the party lost 84 to the BJP — 76 until 2021 and eight just around assembly elections this year. Among other parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) lost 21 lawmakers to the BJP, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) 17, and the Samajwadi Party (SP) lost nine MLAs.
The report shows that between 2014 and 2021, the number of defections from the JD-U to the BJP was low, with only two MLAs from the former switching over in that period.
The Telugu Desam Party — a party that was once an ally of the BJP until it broke away in 2018 — lost a total of 26 MLAs to defections, data show.
The above-mentioned defections were both pre- and post-elections.
A total of 85 MLAs who defected between 2017 and 2022 contested this year’s assembly elections on another party’s ticket, the data show.
Data also show that defections didn’t just happen around elections.
For example, 22 MLAs resigned from the Congress party in Madhya Pradesh resigned en masse in 2020, toppling the state government under veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath.
In Karnataka, in 2019, 16 MLAs from the then-ruling coalition of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) joined the BJP to topple the state government under H.D. Kumaraswamy. Thirteen of the 16 rebels became BJP candidates in the 2020 by-elections.
According to a report by The Hindu, the BJP fielded the highest number of turncoats (830) in the assembly polls in the last decade. The report, which quoted data from Trivedi Centre for Political Data — a political data centre affiliated with Ashoka University — said that more than 44 per cent of such candidates won.
On the other hand, the report showed that Congress lost 806 candidates in the last 10 years and that 33 per cent of these defectors went on to win elections. Most of these defectors were fielded by the BJP, with Uttar Pradesh having the highest number (130), followed by Karnataka (81)
Allegations and denial
The Opposition parties claim the BJP is using inducements and threats to engineer the defections.
“BJP was violating human rights in the name of the National Registry of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act. It’s using the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation. In the last six years, there’s hardly been an instance of ED or CBI operations in the BJP-ruled states. It means BJP is of the opinion that whoever is part of BJP is free from such raids,” JD-U spokesperson Parimal Kumar told ThePrint.
The Congress claims that the BJP has been misusing government agencies at its disposal to threaten MLAs.
“The BJP has been on a mission to destabilise other parties’ governments by misusing agencies and by providing various kinds of inducements and/or by issuing threats to various legislators,” Congress spokesperson M.V. Rajeev Gowda — a former MP in Rajya Sabha — told ThePrint. “As a result, they’ve been able to subvert the people’s mandate, not just at the level of the government but also at the level of elected representatives. The BJP spends an enormous amount of money to corrupt the electoral process, as seen with operation Lotus repeatedly,” he said.
The question, he said, is not why MLAs and MPs are deserting the Congress or any opposition other parties, but what kind of pressure they face to do so.
“And why they have been induced/threatened to leave the party. These reflect the sad state of democracy under the BJP,” he said.
Political analyst Sanjay Singh — a professor and co-director of Lokniti, a research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies — said it wasn’t unusual for legislators to join the ruling party to have a bright political career.
“In the last decade, BJP has emerged as the most dominant political party. They have won two national elections with a majority and several states as well,” he said.
Legislators who leave their party want to be on the winning side, he said.
“While it may seem a bit lopsided at the moment, overall there’s no denying that the BJP is a very dominant party. This is one of the major factors why we see leaders from different parties joining it,” he said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)