If Karnataka is the yardstick, we are likely witnessing the beginning of the end of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP machinery has revved into action. Congress legislators from the state have reportedly been flown into the Sangh Parivar territory of Bengaluru and the by-now déjà vuesque sequence of events are starting to unfold.
Ten Congress legislators including two ministers suddenly vanished from Bhopal a couple of days ago. Six surfaced with the Congress announcing they were very much in the party fold.
The remaining four? According to reports, they are holed up somewhere in Bengaluru. One of them Hardeep Singh Dang on Thursday (March 5) night claimed he had sent in his resignation as legislator to the speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly.
As with the then speaker of the Karnataka Assembly KR Ramesh Kumar, his Madhya Pradesh counterpart, NP Prajapati denied he had received the resignation. Reports quoting him said unless the legislator comes in person and convinces him about the resignation he will not accept it.
The speaker’s resistance is akin to an individual trying to stem the flow of water from a dam breach using a sandbag. It will work for some time, but unless significant help arrives, it could be a losing cause.
The Kamal Nath government has 120 MLAs — four above the majority of 116 in the 228-member assembly (Full strength is 230, of which two are vacant). Of these, 114 are from the Congress, two from the BSP, one from the Samajwadi Party and four independents. The BJP has 107 MLAs.
Given the thin majority, the MP Congress government is at high risk to give way to a BJP dispensation. What is really of concern is the absence of any outrage to what is patently a subversive move to upend the results of a free and fair election in which the Congress secured a majority.
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That this has now become the trend is a clear example of dilution of the electoral process which is the foundation on which Indian democracy rests.
That the BJP and the Sangh Parivar control today’s narrative is clear. More often than not, political morality is obfuscated to a point where the predator appears like the prey and vice versa.
For instance, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa at the start of the ongoing Assembly election was quoted as saying “Don’t ridicule people’s mandate by criticising our government”. Replying to the motion of thanks on the Governor’s address Mr Yediyurappa equated criticism of his government to ridiculing the people’s mandate.
Just a few months earlier, Mr Yediyurappa manoeuvred himself from the position of an opposition leader to that of a chief minister by enticing a group of legislators from the previous government of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) alliance, many of whom shifted allegiance to the BJP. At that time, the people’s mandate did not count.
While the BJP in the May 2018 election had fallen short of the majority by eight seats, the Congress-JD(S) coalition had crossed the magic number of 112 and formed the government.
Surely, there is nothing illegitimate about a coalition. But the BJP, suffering serious heartburn at falling short, did not give up. At least on three different occasions, the party tried to attract legislators from the ruling coalition. Eventually, in July last, Mr Yediyurappa succeeded and came to power.
Since 2014, when the BJP came to power in the Centre this has become the rule — what cannot be won through elections has been achieved using questionable means including money power, the threat to use tax and other enforcement agencies on opposition politicians and the lure of office in a new dispensation.
It may be recalled that Goa, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur were some of the states where the BJP got into power under dubious circumstances.
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So, it is now the turn of Madhya Pradesh to find itself in the crosshairs of the BJP and the drama has begun. Congress seems to have another stiff fight on its hand considering there is no power, including the judiciary which in the past has shown the wherewithal to arrest the slide.
Given the trend in recent times, if the Congress government is under threat in Madhya Pradesh now, it is a matter of time before its rule in Rajasthan is challenged. Already, the Congress is not in perfect shape there as there has been a long-running feud between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot.
As in Madhya Pradesh, the majority for the Congress is wafer thin in Rajasthan. So, danger lurks for India’s Grand Old Party unless it closes ranks and enthuses its legislator to stick together.
Maharashtra, on the face of it, may not be a difficult task for the BJP. There, the saffron outfit is still smarting under the shock of its ideological partner, the Shiv Sena, pulling the rug from its feet and going on to form a government with rivals Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
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The so-called Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance is holding on tenuously with all the three partners careful not to let their mutual differences result in a break up. The controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), among other issues, is straining at the fault lines among the three, with the Shiv Sena positively inclined to it while its partners oppose the law.
When the BJP think tank sets its sights on the gaddi in Mumbai, one can only surmise what its strategy there will be, given the specific background of the Shiv Sena and its tight-knit supporters. One can be sure the BJP will have a task in hand if it sets out to rattle the stumps of the Aghadi.
As in any government, there is always a honeymoon period when ruling dispensations guard their turf. Dissensions invariably start on the issue of government formation when those left out of ministerial positions decide it is no longer worthwhile to stay on in the ruling party or parties. Once upon a time, they were termed opportunists. Today, this word has all but been erased from India’s political lexicon.
In Karnataka, most of those who quit the Congress coalition were upset at being denied either a ministry or for being given a “lightweight” portfolio. They then contested under the BJP ticket. Unsurprisingly, a grateful Yediyurappa awarded them plum ministerial positions in the new government, even ignoring the anger of many longstanding veterans of the saffron party who had been hoping for a berth in the ministry.
When the anti-defection law was enacted in 1985 by the then Rajiv Gandhi government, many hoped this would act as a deterrent to the “Aaya Rams and Gayaa Rams” as defectors were referred to, sardonically. For close to three decades the law did seem to work though it was challenged on a few occasions. But, with the BJP coming to power in 2014 and a slew of state governments falling prey to defections the law to prevent crossovers has lost its bite.
A definitive nail was struck in November 2019 by the Supreme Court in the Karnataka case which ruled that those who had been disqualified under the anti-defection act were eligible to contest again immediately after resignation rather than having to wait out the remaining part of the five-year term of the government. In other words, legislators who resign and join the opposition with a view to helping it coming to power do not suffer any penalties other than having to get re-elected.
The Congress party, meanwhile, has weakened to a point where it is yet to show that it can still be counted when challenged. Rather, it seems to have dangerously run out of steam and ideas to counter relentless attack on its governments, whether as part of a coalition or otherwise. But that is another story…