The Congress party is back on all-too familiar ground, as it watches its government in Puducherry plunging into a crisis.
With the exit of a fourth MLA, A John Kumar, a close confidante of Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanaswamy on Tuesday (February 16), the ruling Congress party’s strength in the assembly has dropped to 10.
The Narayanaswamy government has clearly lost its majority, though it has the support of another three members from the DMK and one independent, while the Opposition has 14 seats in the 28-member assembly – seven MLAs of the N R Congress, four of the AIADMK, and three ‘nominated’ MLAs of the BJP.
These exits have strategically come just ahead of the assembly elections scheduled in May, and the most recent resignation unfolded a day before Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Puducherry to launch the election campaign in the UT. A day earlier, on February 15, Malladi Krishna Rao resigned and has predictably joined the BJP party. Even as the Opposition demands a floor-test in the assembly, the time is now reportedly ripe for BJP’s Operation Lotus, resort politics, defections, high-voltage drama and more. BJP heavyweights will descend on the quiet, pretty coastal UT, which has been a Congress stronghold for many decades now, to set the wheels of defections in motion.
No one will be surprised, if a BJP-led or BJP-backed government somehow manages to get on the saddle. This is the same script that is playing out in each state, say political analysts. “This is the BJP’s style of functioning. They will poach and buy MLAs. They have done it in Manipur, Arunachal, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh…they are only purchasing MLAs. Shame on the BJP for targeting elected Congress governments,” the Chief Minister Narayanasway told NDTV on Tuesday, even as he asserted that his government is not in a minority.
Political observers feel that since coming to power in 2014, the BJP has indeed time and again successfully ousted parties, even with a majority in the state assembly, through clever machinations – either by forging alliances with small local parties and engineering defections of their MLAs.
However, the fall of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh in March 2020 is considered to be “unparalleled” since it coincided with the looming threat of a global pandemic outbreak and a severe national lockdown.
The BJP took advantage of the isolation of Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia in his party to get him to defect to their party and bring 22 MLA loyalists with him. But, even as the assembly speaker did not accept their resignations, the Congress MLAs were sprinted away to a resort in Bengaluru by BJP to avoid horse-trading attempts. To prevent any embarrassment on the floor of the house, CM Kamal Nath resigned after being just 15 months in power accusing the BJP of conspiring against his government. But, to be fair, the infighting in a weak Congress gave a hawkish BJP leverage to move in. Dejected Congress workers told the media at that time that BJP’s “killer instinct” helps them to move fast and they wished Congress leaders would learn from them.
Indeed, the BJP has wrested power from ruling parties in Karnataka, Meghalaya, Manipur, Goa and Arunachal Pradesh, and in some of these states the BJP would have had just few seats. Like they do in Puducherry.
For instance, in Meghalaya, the BJP had just won two seats in the 60 member house, while the Congress had bagged 19 seats in the 2018 assembly elections. However, BJP dispatched Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former Congress leader, to negotiate a deal with regional parties, and stalled any moves being made by a dithering, slow-moving Congress. And, the National People’s Party, a BJP ally in the Centre, forged an alliance with regional parties and formed the government. A BJP minister was roped into the cabinet.
In Karnataka, the BJP government brought down the 14-month old JD(S) and Congress government in 2018, allegedly engineering the defection of 17 MLAs, 13 from Congress. The disqualification of the MLAs and then a judicial decision allowing them to contest bypolls brought back the BJP-led Yediruppa government to power.
But, what happened in Goa in 2017 left the entire country stumped. The Congress emerged as the single largest party in the 2017 assembly elections, with 17 seats in the 40-member assembly. It just needed four more MLAs to form the government. Senior BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari and then Defence Minister, the late Manohar Parrikar, brokered a deal again with regional parties and formed the government with Parrikar as Chief Minister. Veteran Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who was in-charge of Goa at that time was left red-faced but he blamed his own party and said he was sabotaged by Congress leaders, who had prevented him from tying up with the regional party Goa Forward.
Master negotiator Himanta Biswa Sarma again played a crucial role in securing support of regional parties in Manipur in 2017. Besides Sarma, two senior Union ministers — Piyush Goyal and Prakash Javadekar — were also stationed in the state to rally regional leaders to their side and keep the Congress out. The Congress had won 28 seats to BJP’s 21 in the Manipur assembly elections.
If they are not making strategic alliances with regional parties, the BJP can also allegedly turn to Governors to help them form governments.
In Maharashtra in 2019, in an unprecedented manner, the Governor revoked President’s rule, and at midnight swore in Devendra Fadnavis, who had broken with the Shiv Sena but claimed he had sufficient support from the Nationalist Congress Party under Ajit Pawar. That gambit however failed.
An unlikely alliance between three parties – Sena, NCP and Congress – was forged and they formed the government. Right now, Maharashtra seems out of bounds, but the BJP, is a strong Opposition party with 105 seats and waiting to pounce on every opportunity to provoke squabbles between the alliance partners and draw support to its side.
However, BJP’s attempt to cash in on friction and differences between Congress Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and ex-deputy CM, Sachin Pilot came a cropper, as the trust vote in the assembly went in favour of the ruling Congress party in August 2020. At that time, Ashok Gehlot summed it up when he told India Today, the BJP is trying to write a “black chapter” in the country’s history by trying to topple a democratically elected government. They have a history of doing this…”