In the last week, Covid-19 has al-lowed a few other headlines to co-exist. Even as race riots in the US dominate the non-pandemicheadlines, India has quietly ush-ered in its new election season along with the monsoon. Polls for 18 Rajya Sabha seats from seven states, which were postponed in March, now have a new time-ta-ble. A new notification has been issued for six more seats from three states, and all the 24 seats will be decided on June 19. In Maharashtra, seven were elected un-opposed before the lockdown. They will be formalised.
As we get past these elections and the new members settle down, we will be at the threshold of the Bihar Assembly polls. Be-fore that there will be bypolls to 24 Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, which will decide the fate of the Shivraj Singh Chou-han government. Then of course there are Council elections sched-uled in a few bicameral state leg-islatures. The return of elections may, deviously, connote the re-turn of normalcy.
Any election season in India is a season of somersaults, when we see politicians swinging across the ideological trapeze. Each sea-son offers its own discourse on political fidelity. In fact, the Mad-hya Pradesh bypolls are the result of such a glide and switch. Jyoti-raditya Scindia had retraced his steps to join his family’s default of Jan Sangh and BJP politics.
In Maharashtra, Priyanka Chaturvedi, who has won the RS seat unopposed, suddenly moved out of the Congress to land on the tiger’s back. Also, the entire Ma-harashtra government was placed on a swing due to Ajit Pa-war’s circus at dawn. The precur-sor to all this was the BJP govern-ment in Karnataka last July, when 17 MLAs from secular par-ties waded murky waters to em-brace the lotus.
The larger question here is not the nature of power politics. There is always a predictable dis-section of it that takes place. But what would be interesting to com-prehend is the psychology of the individual trapeze artist. What happens in his mind when he shifts from one party to another? One political ideology to another? How does he construct an expla-nation for himself, and to the out-side world? How does he unbe-lieve what he has so passionately believed for years, and in some cases decades? When did he real-ise that the direction in which he swam so far will reach him only to ragged shores? How does he summon the courage to embar-rass and contradict himself in public? What is the nature of his risk? What mutation does his self-esteem undergo? We need more political psychologists than prac-titioners of psephology to com-prehend this. Just imagine a Nit-ish Kumar, who has earned the nickname ofpaltu chacha in Bi-har. What if he switches again in the run-up to the Assembly polls, or immediately after that? What greater good will he summon this time? What will pass in Scindia’s mind when he sees Rahul Gandhi the next time in the Central Hall of Parliament?
Before Modi, in the coalition era, we saw a set of parties first join Deve Gowda’s United Front government to fight ‘communal forces.’ Then, the same parties joined the Vajpayee-led NDA to keep a check on ‘communal forc-es’. Later, they joined Singh-So-nia’s UPA government to ‘defend secularism’. Some may plainly argue that this is the dynamics of politics, but more than the actual switch or glide, what offers learn-ing here is the inching towards that act, the slow crawl to conver-sion. That is when logic or soph-istry stitch by stitch begins to dress it all up as a principled posi-tion. When Indira Gandhi sought a revival from Chikmagalur in the charged post-Emergency years, Veerendra Patil was put up against her as a Janata Party can-didate. He had been chief minis-ter earlier. He had the nation’s at-tention on him. But after Patil lost the polls, he promptly joined the lady. This is now an insignificant detail in history, but one wonders how he reasoned his shift in the isolation of his mind. Opportun-ism is too easy a label. There is more to the mind that conjures up the switch and proselytises. Reli-gion may offer some depth into this inquiry.
The ideological convert is a great wonderment. A few weeks ago, an eminent historian shared an article from the January 1987 issue of the Freedom First quar-terly magazine. It was about Phil-ip Spratt, a Britisher, who had helped build the Communist movement in British India in the 1920s and 1930s. He had built the Peasants and Workers Party and was prosecuted for sedition in 1927. But he had become a ‘rabid anti-communist’ in the 50s. In the 60s, he was accommodated by Ra-jagopalachari in the Swarajyamagazine. This is a far more com-plex case. Here again the question is, how do they reconfigure them-selves and their arguments?
In mid-April, a once-upon-a-timeVajpayee aide and Advani acolyte on the Ayodhya rath yatra, Sud-heendra Kulkarni, wrote a paean-tweet for Rahul Gandhi: “Change is coming. Honesty is its face. Compassion is its heart. Inclusive-ness is its soul... it is nourished by the pure, ancient and unfailing waters of India’s striving for self-renewal. Its name is #RahulGan-dhi.” Before joining the Right, Kulkarni was on the Left, speak-ing the language of trade unions, and was getting himself photo-graphed in Leningrad. How does one make sense of his glide and switch? This is neither simple op-portunism nor sycophancy. So is the case of Trotskyite proselytes in the BJP from the Oxbridge tra-dition. The new political season promises to offer more illustra-tions from across party lines.
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