By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
The stunning victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the April-May 2019 Indian parliamentary elections has thrown its principal rival, the Indian National Congress (INC), into disarray. The Congress is cracking up even in States in which it is the ruling party, and the ranks of the BJP are swelling across North and Central India and in Karnataka in the South.
There are several reasons for this. The first is the “domino effect” of the sweeping victory of the BJP and its allies in the all-India parliamentary elections. The scale of the victory (350 out of the 542 seats up for grabs) has given the impression that the BJP is going to dominate the Indian political scene for another 20 years. Hence the rush to join Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s bandwagon.
The second is a lack of direction from the Congress leadership consequent to the resignation of Rahul Gandhi from the post of Congress President on May 25, two days after the parliamentary election results came out. Till date, the Congress has not chosen a successor to Rahul. Demoralization in the leadership is so high that no one wants to take the baton from him.
There is no candidate partly because the Congress party cannot consider candidates outside the Gandhi family and partly because of there is a perception that the party may have become irrelevant.
The third is political mismanagement. In Karnataka, the powerful position of Chief Minister was given to H.D.Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) when the Congress was a much bigger party in the State Assembly. Congress had 80 seats while the JDS had only 37. When the question of distribution of the loaves and fishes of office came up, there was disappointment among Congress Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), who thought they deserved a better deal.
Matters came to a head after the BJP comprehensively beat the Congress-JDS in the April-May parliamentary elections. While the BJP won 25 out of the 28 seats, the Congress and JDS got only one each. The disgruntled MLAs concluded that it would be better to join the BJP bandwagon than to stick to the Congress (or the JDS). Not surprisingly, 14 Congress, three JDS MLAs and one Independent MLA resigned from the Assembly obviously to bring down the government.
The State Assembly Speaker K. R. Ramesh Kumar has not accepted the resignations of the rebel MLAs yet. In the event of his accepting the resignations, the broader ruling coalition’s previous strength of 118 will come down to 100 and the majority mark will drop from 113 to 105. The BJP has 105 members and the support of the two Independents, which takes its tally to 107. If the numbers remain this way at the voting on the planned Confidence Motion, the Congress-JDS government will fall.
However, there are reports of reverse poaching. “There are black sheep among the BJP MLAs too,” Congress leader Siddharamaiah said. MLAs could be enticed with ministerial positions and other plum offices.
The Congress-JDS leaders blame the BJP for the crisis. They say that the BJP had launched “Operation Lotus” to buy up MLAs. The BJP had flown the rebel MLAs to Mumbai and put them up in a posh hotel there. When loyal MLA D.K.Shivakumar went to meet them, the police blocked him. Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra State which is ruled by the BJP.
“Operation Lotus” spread to Goa, where 10 out of 15 Congress MLAs switched over to BJP overnight. The most interesting part of “Operation Lotus” in Goa is that 8 out 10 of the Congress MLA who switched to the BJP are Catholics, showing that in the game of power, religious taboos are no considerations. The Catholic MLAs were undeterred by the fact that the BJP is an aggressive “Hindutwa” party.
In West Bengal, six MLAs of the ruling Trinamool Congress defected to the BJP following their party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha Elections. The BJP got 18 out of 40 seats, 16 more than in the last election. Its vote share had also gone up by 22%. The BJP is already seeing itself as the next ruling party in West Bengal, a State hitherto dominated by Left and Left of Center secular parties like the Trinamool Congress, the Communists and the Congress.
Senior West Bengal BJP leader Mukul Roy on Saturday claimed that 107 MLAs, mostly from the ruling Trinamool Congress, are set to join the BJP.
In Gujarat, the BJP easily engineered two defections from Congress to ensure the victory of two of its candidates for the Rajya Sabha or the Upper House of parliament which represents the States.
Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar and Jugal Thakor were elected after two Congress MLAs, Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala, defied the party’s whip and voted for the two BJP candidates. Thereafter they resigned from the Assembly to be able to join the BJP legally. It is said that anywhere from 15 to 30 Congress MLA might quit to join the BJP in the coming days.
The main reason for this is that in the April parliamentary elections, the BJP won all the 26 seats in Gujarat.
The current impasse in the Congress party will only embolden the BJP to go the whole hog to establish a “Congress-mukt Bharat” or a Congress-free India.
Dangers of Opposition-less System
If that were to happen, it won’t be good either for Indian politics or Indian democracy, political pundits say. The CPI(M)-led Left Front is already facing a threat to its existence as a major force. Such a scenario will push India towards an Opposition-less state, and dictatorship is bound to follow.
The emerging scenario may not be in the interest of BJP itself. It is found that factionalism arises not only in defeated parties but also in dominant parties. There can be no political grouping without an opposition, which could either come from outside or inside. In case there is no opposition from the outside, it emerges inside in the form of factions. Parties tend to unite in the face of external threats, but break into factions when there is no outside threat.
Secondly, given the top priority given to the loaves and fishes of office by politicians in the Third World due to the scarcity of resources and opportunities to make money legitimately, there will be a stiff competition for offices and perks. Dissensions would arise if everyone cannot be satisfied.
A powerful political party enjoying monopoly of power could opt for greater and greater centralization and concentration of power in the hands of a single leader or cabal. Already, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is highly centralized. Power is, in effect, in the hands of Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah.
Given the fact that BJP’s victory is attributed to Modi’s charisma and Amit Shah’s organizational skills and Kautilyan thinking, the power of the duo will only get further legitimized and perpetuated to the detriment of Indian democracy.
The question as to whether this is Congress party’ swan song arises as many people tend to write it off. But in politics, there is no finality about the status of any party or ideology. In 2014, the Congress was mauled by the BJP, but by 2018 the Congress had captured power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. It had emerged as the single largest party in Goa and Meghalaya but was out-maneuvered by the BJP’s ability to strike alliances. Therefore, the BJP and its “Hindutva brigade” would do well to remember that the only thing permanent in politics is impermanence.
(The featured image at the top shows the Karnataka Chief Minister and Janata Dal Secular leader H.D.Kumaraswamy and Congress leader Siddharamiah in a sit in)