Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint Team
Text Size:

After 16 members of the Congress-JD(S) alliance resigned in Karnataka, the Congress received a jolt in Goa, with 10 of its MLAs joining the ruling BJP. While BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa said the party in Karnataka will ‘wait and watch’, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant said the central leadership will take a call on cabinet reshuffle.

ThePrint asks: Karnataka & Goa Congress defections: Political opportunism or did ideology never matter?

Desertions sign of party’s prospects and often involve leaders ever-ready to jump a sinking ship

Gilles Verniers
Co-Director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data and assistant professor, Ashoka University

The decision of a large number of Congress and JD(S) legislators to resign or shift to the BJP is not surprising for at least three reasons.

First, it is common for cadres and party workers to jump out of a political ship when it is sinking. The amplitude of the current desertions reflects the scale of the defeat, amplified by the lack of future prospect for the party and doubts about future leadership.

Second, these desertions are facilitated by factors that go into political parties’ recruitment of candidates. Parties aim to maximise their chances of winning seats by coopting self-funding individuals drawn from local elite groups – caste-wise, business-wise or others – and by making them run for office. These candidates are generally not associated with the party because of its ideology or personal loyalty. Their run for office is driven by the incentives that come with being in power – access, network, status. If the party is not in a position to provide them with what they seek, they do not feel they have any particular obligation to stick with it.

Third, while we cannot ascertain the role played by the BJP in engineering these desertions, the fact that the party is ever-ready to induct defectors or draw advantage from the situation shows how it relentlessly pursues its conquest of power at the state level. This process of political consolidation or conquest is no longer paced by the electoral calendar. The BJP is instead in a state of permanent campaign, which includes a strategy of cannibalisation of its adversaries by co-opting their members and party workers.

Unfortunate that outside influences can break citizens’ contract with elected representatives

Neelanjan Sircar
Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research

In the plot unfolding currently in Goa and Karnataka, we are seeing the combined impact of the BJP’s organisational, financial, and institutional dominance — especially vis-a-vis the Congress. With little genuine policymaking power or ideological attachment to their respective parties, MLAs can easily be coerced to switch political allegiances or quit altogether. This phenomenon has grown because entering politics has increasingly become about making money and getting away with crimes.

When one considers the traditional organisational weaknesses in the Congress and the crisis of leadership at the top, the party is particularly vulnerable at this time. The BJP is seizing the moment when Congress’ central decision-making is inchoate and slow, to bring more states under its control.

This further speaks to the extraordinary level of political control in the hands of the BJP. At one time or another, a number of parties have used these tactics. It also demonstrates democratic deficiencies in the Indian system. When citizens elect a representative from a political party, there should be a reasonable expectation that this affiliation stays intact until the next election. It is truly unfortunate that the machinations of political elites and outside influences can interfere with the most basic of democratic contracts between citizen and representative.

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

Congress workers are disenchanted today and looking to the other side, which is making the right moves

Swadesh Singh
Assistant professor at Delhi University  and member, BJP

A political party represents a unity of ideas and a coming together of like-minded people. Leaders may join or leave a party any time, which is why the message that a party stands for is far more important that the leaders themselves.

Congress is facing a ‘Ship of Theseus’ crisis today because its leaders have become bigger than the party itself. The Congress leadership, organisation and its ideology in 2019 is in deep trouble because of this.

Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, who was being groomed for the job for years, resigned without nominating another leader. The man whose name is now doing the rounds for the post of interim president is 90 years old. The other name is of a young leader who faced fierce defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in the region of which he was in-charge.

Usually, after a defeat of this scale, voices of dissent against the party brass appear. But in the Congress, the silence is deafening, and it has been like this for some time now, which indicates a great denuding of democratic systems within the party.

A grassroots worker in any party is a far more sensitive and emotional being. In the Congress of today, such a karyakarta is in mortal danger. He is completely disenchanted and is looking to the other side that seems to be making all the right noises and the correct moves. It is not hard to imagine therefore that sensing this mood, the legislators are defecting in Goa and Karnataka.

What the Congress needs is a dynamic leader whom the karyakartas can look up to, and who can bring back the party’s message, making it bigger than the sum of its parts.

It’s been more than half a century and India continues to be plagued by aaya Ram-gaya Ram culture

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Author and Journalist

Ideology stopped mattering when it came to running regimes, engineering defections and increasing political toehold a long time ago. BJP leader and perpetual chief ministerial aspirant (when not in office), B.S. Yeddyurappa was honest while articulating the sentiment: “Are we sanyasis (hermits)?” he said, when asked if the BJP would stake claim in Karnataka.

It is more than half a century that India continues being plagued by the aaya Ram-gaya Ram culture. Unlike in other developed democracies, changing party loyalties is commonplace in India. Both party and leaders examine winnability of one another when making choices. This is symptomatic of weak organisational structures and leaders seeing public life as career option for personal growth and advancement.

If a significant section of politicians has not joined parties, it is not because of ideological or pragmatic reasons but out of personal loyalties and craving for power. Crossing over when political opportunities are available — like in Karnataka and Goa presently — carries rewards, promises security and ensures political power.

Unfortunately, parties that promised to stem the rot or script new political culture succumbed to the ‘compulsions’ of realpolitik. The BJP is no longer the “party with a difference”, nor is the AAP the party that can live up to its assurance of new politics. In time, every party succumbed to the lure of staying in office and consolidating power. A party only has a handful of leaders for whom ideology matters; for others, it dangles the fruits of power to enhance its influence.

Also read: 3 key takeaways from Karnataka crisis no matter what happens to Kumaraswamy govt

Onus was on Congress to form and retain governments in both Karnataka & Goa

Shivam Vij
Contributing editor, ThePrint

The Congress MLAs shifting political allegiances in Goa and Karnataka is proof that power is the most potent ideology. It is opportunism, sure, but realpolitik is nothing but opportunism.

It’s easy to be moralistic about MLAs switching sides for power and money. But let us remember that both the states got a fractured mandate in their last assembly elections. The onus was on the Congress to form and retain governments in both the states. In Goa, it failed to form the government. In Karnataka, it fought hard to keep the BJP out and support a junior coalition partner for the CM’s post. But the Karnataka government was a bickering coalition, a marriage so unhappy that it only ruined the Congress and the JD(S)’ reputation in the state.

In such a situation, as the BJP returns to power at the Centre and the Congress party doesn’t know who its national president is, do you really blame the poor MLA? Horse trading is a reality in Indian politics because horses do need feeding. If an owner can’t bolt his stable, others will steal the horses. What’s so incredulous here?

These MLAs clearly don’t fear public disapproval for switching sides. This only proves that voters too don’t care much about ideology.

By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. 

ThePrint is now on Telegram. For the best reports & opinion on politics, governance and more, subscribe to ThePrint on Telegram.

4 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Irrespective of current status of Congress, media instead should have shown the courage of asking the government questions on real issues, are justifying defection encouraged by BJP

  2. Many commentators (including Shekhar Gupta) claim that the anti-defection law has failed. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay claims that after 50 years we are beset by aaya ram-gaya ram culture. Sadly, they are both wrong. Just remember that “perfection” is the enemy of “good”. The anti-defection law has largely worked and that’s why even unstable governments often last more than 1-2 years. Even when the law fails, its failure is pretty interesting. In Karnataka, we have an entire party (JDS) that switches sides – in effect “defects” to the side that gives it most money and power. How can a law that was designed for individuals apply to a party? Nor should it because alliance formation is important in a democracy. So, please stop complaining that the anti-defection law has failed. In fact, it has worked well by making it harder for individuals to defect and, that too, only in large enough numbers.

  3. A new kind of politics is on full display. It makes not even a token obeisance to ideology, morality, principle. It coincides with a phase when the Congress – recent 120 million votes, notwithstanding – is getting crushed, pulverised, eviscerated. It is taking place at a time of widespread economic pain and distress, the one issue governance in a poor country ought to be focused on, almost to the exclusion of all else. With a clear, powerful mandate to rule till 2024, perhaps these state level interventions need not have been the highest priorities. We all pray for Achhe Din.

    • ashok ji – as Shivam Vij says “Onus was on Congress to form and retain governments in both Karnataka & Goa.”. When the elected representative has no loyalty to either party or own ideology, then what can be done to stop poaching? Also, if this government brings stringent amendments to the existing legislation, you will turn your statement upside down.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here