Politics of defection in India began around 1967 when the concept of coming to power by forming coalition governments by a group of parties developed following defeat of the Congress in many States. Within a period of four years (1967-71), there were 142 defections in Parliament and 1969 defections in State Assemblies in the country. Thirty-two governments collapsed and 212 defectors were rewarded with ministerial positions.
Haryana was the first State in the country where a Congress ministry was toppled by the dissidents. Rao Birender Singh, a Congress defector, formed Haryana Congress and toppled the Bhagwat Dayal ministry and earned the distinction of being the first political leader to become a Chief Minister through defection.
Although the anti-defection law was passed in 1985 and added to the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, defections continue to rule the political game of power. Defection can be seen in other democracies in the world as well.
In the UK
However, in US and European countries, defection is not as rampant as in India. Defection is big problem in Australia, Nigeria and Kenya. The historical defection of Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister of the UK, in 1931 is a prominent case of defection in Europe. Disagreements with his party on policy responses to the economic crisis led him to switch to the rival party. Neither MacDonald nor any of his three Cabinet colleagues who defected along with him resigned their seats in the House of Commons to seek a fresh mandate.
The BJP, the ruling party at the Centre, has come to power in many States by orchestrating political migration mostly from the Congress and other political parties. We have seen what happened in Karnataka recently where the Yeddiyurappa government came to power toppling the Congress–JD(S) coalition government. In Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP formed the government by luring Congress and Arunachal People’s Party legislators.
The political drama in Sikkim — after the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) founder and former Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling-led government lost majority in the last Assembly elections in the State — has now drawn attention. The BJP, which could not open an account in the last Assembly elections in Sikkim and secured only 1.6% votes, has overnight become the main opposition party, with 10 of the 13 MLAs of SDF in the House defecting to the party.
The SDF, having been in power in the State for five consecutive terms since 1993, lost to the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) in the May 2019 Assembly elections, with the SKM winning 17 of the 32 seats. Now in the Sikkim legislative Assembly, Pawan Chamling is the lone SDF legislator as two of the SDF legislators had earlier joined the ruling SKM. Interestingly, the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) of which SDF was a member, has now been replaced by the SKM. This has led to a piquant situation, wherein both the ruling SKM as well as the opposition BJP are now members of the NEDA.
The BJP had successfully lured many politicians from opposing parties before the last parliamentary elections. Apart from Congress leaders from many of the States, the BJP poached some of the BJD leaders in Odisha and NCP leaders in Maharashtra. After the success of Karnataka and Goa, the BJP is now eyeing the Congress-led Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan governments.
The Kamal Nath government of MP is critically dependent on a few Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and a few independent MLAs. In Rajasthan, the Congress government depends on a dozen independents who have extended support on the condition that Gehlot should remain the Chief Minister.
The Congress has been able to keep them together as of now but the BJP will try hard to fulfil its ‘Congress-free India’ dream by attempting political coups. Several leaders from the Telugu Desam Party and the Congress in Telangana joined the BJP recently. Two former MPs from Assam — Bhubaneswar Kalita and Santiuse Kujur — and a former Minister and veteran Congress leader Gautam Roy recently joined the BJP. After the landslide victory of the BJP in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the party has started its membership drive.
The BJP’s expertise in poaching has clearly outwitted the opposition. How the BJP was able to attract and retain a majority of Christian MLAs of Goa surprises many. Similarly, with only two BJP MLAs in a Christian-dominated State like Meghalaya, the BJP could bring the NPP-led government into the fold of the BJP-led NEDA.
Despite the culture and the ethnic composition of the Northeastern States that do not match with the saffron party’s ideology, the party has captured power in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura and is also leading a coalition government in Nagaland with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP).
The BJP leaders have mastered the art of locating the fault lines in the edifice of the opponents and then using them for their own political benefit. Criminality, corruption, greed for power and money have made many political leaders vulnerable to the pressures of the powerful political forces of the day. These also are the reasons behind the fall of once strong regional forces in our country though in some States, regional parties are still a force to reckon with.
Consequent to the mandate in the last Lok Sabha elections, the unifying factor of Indian polity – ‘diversity’ – has been replaced with a singular ideology – one party, one nation, one belief. When monopolisation of politics, business and society converge, authoritarian regimes emerge endangering democracy.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)