Power and principles make strange bedfellows in the politics of negotiation. Show a leader a throne, and Presto!—old principles are magically replaced by newly invented values. To stay on his seat, Bihar’s evergreen Chief Minister Nitish Kumar dumped the tainted Lalu Parivar last week to shake hands with the BJP—a party he had vowed to bury just a few years ago. It was just another walk down the alliance aisle for him. For decades, Nitish has never been chair-less. In his hands, resignations turn into inimitable instruments of contradictory compromises to retain the very same job he threatens to quit each time there is a crisis of credibility.
He has created a record of sorts by becoming the first political leader to be sworn in six times for the same post in less than 12 years. Somewhere along the journey from a Union Minister in 1998 to chief minister of Bihar from 2005 until now, Nitish picked up the tentative tag of Potential Prime Minister. Today, he has humbled himself by accepting former bête noire Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his national leader. Perhaps, his survival instincts compel him to be reconciled to being just one of the many chief ministers in India’s history.
The man en route to becoming a maximum leader has chosen a meaninglessly minimum path, which is sure to degrade his political clout.
Unlike other regional satraps such as Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and DMK boss M Karunanidhi who have the clout and charisma to win elections on their own,
Nitish needs the crutches of either a regional outfit or a national party to stay in business. Hence he needed to rediscover the BJP’s good side, thereby making it his ethically refurbished vehicle of polity. By stooping to conquer, he has allowed the saffron party to regain politically-sensitive Bihar, which it had lost three years ago.
The message from Patna is loud and clear. The new BJP, led by Modi and Shah, has mastered the art of expanding its saffron footprint countrywide by winning elections decisively or becoming a favourite destination for opponents. The two leaders have fully understood that every non-BJP leader (barring the Left) is in the market waiting for a political office.
Hence, they have made it their mission to convert the entire Indian political spectrum into a Congress-mukt Bharat as soon as possible. Beware! Those who come in the way, can fall in line or fall by the wayside. They don’t perceive Lalu as just an obstacle in the BJP’s future electoral success in Bihar—he is also an instrument for a Congress revival in the country through a shaky Mahagadbandhan. Unfortunately, for the Congress, Lalu’s insatiable greed for dodgy money drove the image-conscious Nitish Kumar into the BJP’s arms.
But Nitish is not the only leader to switch sides since NDA came to power. Many others from India’s political universe, mainly from the Congress, have chosen the BJP as their preferred habitat. From Arunachal Pradesh to Kerala, there is hardly a state from where senior and middle level BJP opponents haven’t abandoned their parent party to leap into the saffron embrace.
The majority of them are from the Congress party. Natch. Congress leaders across the country realise their party can no longer win elections. They feel Brand Gandhi has become a victim of the law of diminishing political returns. The party’s ownership is closely held; it is unlikely to be listed on the political exchange. In trading jargon, the Congress neither has powerful brand value, nor the clout to acquire new assets. On the other hand, the indomitable Brand Modi leads the BJP—the party of now and forever. It also has the magnetism and goodwill to acquire new assets and persuade the merger of small parties.
The BJP’s acquisition drive began in Arunachal Pradesh, where it encouraged the conversion of the Congress government into a BJP regime. Then, a dozen prominent Congress leaders in Uttarakhand crossed over, and the BJP won the state election with two-thirds majority. In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, defectors got over 30 tickets; some of them even got cabinet berths. According to a rough estimate, over 10 per cent of BJP’s current MPs and MLAs are crossovers.
Even now, a large number of power-hungry saffron baiters are willing to hop over to the BJP to gain political calories. Some months ago, veteran Karnataka Congress leader S M Krishna, former chief minister and Union minister, defected to the BJP at age 85. In Gujarat, just before the Rajya Sabha polls, the Congress has lost its six senior MLAs to the BJP. To add insult to injury, one of them was made a BJP Rajya Sabha candidate. Over the weekend, three Opposition legislators quit their parties in Uttar Pradesh. No guesses to where their tickets are booked.
The BJP is not engineering a new law of desiccation through disloyalty. The Gandhis—from Indira to Sonia—started the defection trend though ironically it was Rajiv who brought in the anti-defection law. Indira had the cynical capability to convert Opposition governments into her own. In 1980, she lured the chief minister of Haryana, Bhajan Lal of the Janata Party, into joining the Congress en masse, with all his cabinet and MLAs. From 1980 to the mid 1990s, the Congress provided offices of profit to its opponents through political seduction. It toppled Morarji Desai’s government by offering the prime ministership to Chaudhary Charan Singh in 1979. It pulled down V P Singh’s government and installed vociferous Gandhi critic Chandrashekar in his place.
P V Narasimha Rao bought a majority for his minority government by encouraging defections and breaking regional parties. The Congress forced H D Deve Gowda to resign as PM and replaced him with Inder Kumar Gujral. Historically, Congresspersons have fallen prey to political munificence from the other side. The powerful Maratha leader Sharad Pawar, was conveniently cured of his allergy to the Gandhis when he accepted Indira’s invitation to join her government. But now, the Congress is no longer a meal ticket party, which has goodies to distribute to its cadres—let alone to others. Now, many of its luminaries are flapping around like fish out of water, thirsting for sustenance. The BJP is now a great political ocean with enough oxygen to invigorate power-deprived whales and winnows to live happily thereafter.
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