Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

BJP's choice of turncoats over loyalists is a bad decision filled with incongruities

Delhi Congress leader Arvinder Singh Lovely's defection to BJP has put the focus on rising disloyalty in political parties and a cold war within BJP between defectors and long-time loyalists. File photo: PTI

Senior leaders who have spent decades in BJP, rising from grassroots, find aspirations tripped by ‘outsiders’; there's a constant cold war between the two

A week after resigning as president of the Delhi state unit of the Congress party, Arvinder Singh Lovely, 56, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with four other Congress leaders, including a former minister and two former legislators, to become the latest of the turncoats to join India’s ruling party.

Till recently, at the forefront of seeking votes for the Congress candidates in three of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, Lovely has now been named as one of the BJP’s Star Campaigners in the national capital.

It would be the absence of scruples that would enable him to maintain enthusiasm during the campaign but, for a candidate from the ‘opposite’ camp.

Lovely story

However incongruous this may appear, Lovely and other ‘crossover experts’ are just a handful of innumerable leaders from other parties who have joined the BJP in recent years, chiefly from the time when preparations were started by parties and leaders for this year’s Lok Sabha polls.

But this was not Lovely’s first incongruity. He,in fact, represents a politician whose embrace by the two principal parties in Delhi is testimony to their consistent unprincipled position and not just on the issue of being open to defectors.

Delhi killings

The anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 is an issue over which swords have been crossed between the Congress and the BJP for long.

Over the past two decades and more, the BJP always flagged the issue of Congress’ abetment of the violence against Sikhs to counter criticism of Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. In recent years, the Congress, too, distanced itself from politicians who were directly named as having instigated rioters.

Given this backdrop, neither the BJP nor the Congress should have had any truck with anyone remotely connected with the 1984 pogrom. Among Congress leaders in the city, onetime strongman from East Delhi, HKL Bhagat, earned the greatest notoriety within the party.

Family history

Lovely’s father, Balwinder Singh, was also a local Sikh leader and a close associate of Bhagat. He filed an affidavit in the Misra Commission in support of him in 1986, and Singh was allowed to not just remain in the party but also contest Delhi’s first assembly election in 1993 from one of the East Delhi seats. He eventually lost to Harsha Vardhan, the former Union Health Minister denied a nomination this time.

In the normal course, his father’s association with Bhagat after he was marginalised within the Congress should have been a handicap for Lovely when he tried to make a political career for himself in the late 1990s. Yet, he not just became a legislator but was also made a minister in the state government by Sheila Dikhshit when she was the chief minister.

Congress, BJP

Not just the Congress, but even the BJP welcomed Lovely when he joined the party in 2017, only to return a few months later in 2018.

His rejoining the BJP now is actually the political trajectory completing a full circle. It just shows the unprincipled nature of not just the Congress, but the BJP, too.

Lovely’s departure from the Congress and entry into the BJP is a case of double standards. The former Congress state president was piqued with the party High Command because they chose onetime student activist Kanhaiya Kumar as its candidate from North East Delhi.

But he the ‘outsider’ in BJP now had no qualms in joining the party along with associates, of whom at least two would, besides Lovely himself, be claimants for the BJP nomination in next year’s Assembly election in Delhi.

The BJP, too, on its own, did not have any reservations in admitting a person who hurriedly exited the party in 2018 when his aspirations were not met. This is in sharp contrast to the party’s stance previously when it was extremely guarded in admitting people from other parties.

BJP's logic

Caution and principles, which stood in the way of permitting defectors to join the BJP, have been abandoned because the party has in the past decade taken the shape of an electoral machine which wishes to log wins at all costs.

Delhi leader of the BJP, RP Singh, has been on record saying: “Good people are given good opportunities. Winnability is a necessity to bring members of other parties as well.”

Some time ago, an analysis was done of the 417 candidates that the BJP had announced till that moment. Of them, as many as 116 or 27.82 per cent were turncoats or defectors to the BJP, having made their crossover to the party in recent years, meaning almost one in four BJP candidates has not spent much time in the party.

While this underscores the significant change in the character of the party, it is also indicative of the hazards that accompany this decision. Quite clearly, the BJP High Command took a call that the party would be very liberal with admitting politicians of different hues crossing over from other parties.

Defectors’ grading

In fact, in certain districts there were reports that a senior party worker or office bearer was often tasked with the task of scrutinising ‘applications’ of those willing to crossover.

After short listing of ‘admission applications’ was done by this person, the cases were scrutinized by a bigger panel of leaders. More often than not, at the state level, when the interested defector had a significantly high profile, the case was referred to the national leaders – say for instance someone like Ashok Chavan, he would not have been admitted to the party without the matter being discussed at the highest level.

Ignoring cadres

The biggest drawback of such largescale induction of leaders from other parties is that commitment of the rank and file of the ‘expanded’ BJP to the party’s core ideology and its policies can begin to run thin. This is a risk a party has to take if it wishes to transform from being a cadre-based party into a wider, mass-based party.

The transition from being a cadre-based party is not hazardous as long as the party’s quest for votes are driven a highly charismatic leader, as Narendra Modi is currently. But the challenges will begin to mount the moment there is no charismatic propellent to enable it to win elections.

On the flip side, as has been reported from several parts of the country, the cadre and senior leaders of the BJP who have already spent several decades in the party and have risen from the grassroots find their aspirations being tripped by the ‘outsiders’.

This problem is particularly acute in a state like Gujarat, where the party is well entrenched and probably comfortably on way to seeping all the 26 seats in the state for a third consecutive time. But even here, the party decided to allot the party ticket to three leaders who made the BJP their new political home.

Cold war

The BJP leadership’s reasoning in admitting turncoats from other parties is that this has a crippling effect on the opposition parties and conveys the sense that they are being consistently deserted by every leader who has the capacity to win elections or has good organisational skills.

There have been several reports of cold war between the newcomers in the BJP and the old-timers. One of the primary reasons attributed to the reduced electoral turnover this time when compared to 2019 is that campaigning has been restrained.

Low voter turnout

The moot question is if there is any connection to reduced turnover and the apathy for BJP candidates from within the ranks in those seats where the nominee is not someone who has been with the party for several years?

Quite clearly, the BJP brass have taken a calculated risk by undervaluing loyalty over decades, and have given greater weightage to those who have come from other parties and created a splash in the media reports by their crossing defection. Whether this gambit will pay off or fail is something that we will know on June 4.

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

Next Story