A new season of politics and the proselyte

What would be interesting to comprehend is the psychology of the individual politician when he shifts from one party to another

Published: 05th June 2020 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th June 2020 08:48 PM   |  A+A-


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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