Poaching for power in Puducherry

Arunachal Pradesh to Puducherry: BJP’s insatiable hunger for power

Politics

February 22, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Poaching for power in Puducherry

Puducherry chief minister V Narayanasamy resigned today after he failed to prove his majority in the assembly (Image: Twitter)

Though elected on a plank against corruption, the Bharatiya Janata Party has taken political corruption to new highs over the past six years, destabilising elected governments by using its money and muscle.

Less than two months before Assembly elections are scheduled, the tiny union territory of Puducherry joins a long and ever-increasing list of state governments that have been toppled by the Bharatiya Janata Party ever since it won the Parliamentary elections in 2014. Ironically, the 2014 elections were fought by the BJP and its leader Narendra Modi on an anti-corruption plank since the last few years of Manmohan Singh’s second term had been embroiled in numerous alleged scams.

Since the 2014 victory in the Parliamentary polls, the BJP has used all the tools at its disposal – money, muscle as well as central investigation agencies – and not let go of any opportunity to topple governments of parties that are not part of the National Democratic Alliance. In case of close elections, too, it has blatantly indulged in horse trading to steal a march over its rivals, notably Congress.

In Puducherry, V Narayanasamy’s resignation as chief minister of Puducherry today had become a foregone conclusion over the weekend as four MLAs of the ruling coalition had resigned one after another, putting it in minority in the 30-member house. Trouble erupted in January when public works department minister A Namassivayam resigned from assembly hours after he was suspended from Congress for ‘anti-party’ activities. Another MLA also resigned simultaneously and both joined the BJP days later.

Since then, four more MLAs have quit the ruling coalition, reducing it to a minority and leading to Narayanasamy’s resignation.

The list of states where BJP has managed to oust an elected government criss crosses the entire country. The north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh is the first and one of the best examples of BJP’s machinations to gain power at any cost. In the 2014 assembly elections, held alongside the Parliamentary polls, the Congress had formed the government after winning a hefty two-third majority, bagging 44 seats in the 60-member assembly. With BJP’s machinations, reportedly through its then newly-acquired pointsman in the region, Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former Congress minister from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh was roiled with instability and over the next two years political parties’ fortunes saw many twists and turns.

Before six months were over, however, trouble erupted as CM Nabam Tuki sacked health and family welfare minister Kalikho Pul in December, who was expelled from the party a few months later. However, this began a see-saw struggle for power by now some more Congress MLAs had begun to rebel against Tuki, culminating in a bizarre session of assembly in December 2015 where rebel MLAs hold a meeting in a hotel and remove Tuki and elected Pul as CM.

Congress MLA Pema Khandu, son of two-term Congress CM Dorjee Khandu, left the party with a group of rebel MLAs to form the People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh (PPA) and joined the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance. Eventually, the Supreme Court ordered restoration of the Congress government in July 2016.

Khandu then returned to the Congress with the rebel MLAs, and took over as the CM in July 2016, replacing Tuki.

But two months later, in September 2016, Khandu joined the PPA again, taking with him 43 of the 44 MLAs. A month later, he formally joined the BJP, taking with him 33 of the 43 MLAs. The PPA expelled him, but before the party could replace him as the CM, Khandu staked claim and formed government with the support of 33 MLAs. In the 2019 assembly elections, the BJP got a majority on its own, winning 41 of the 60 seats and formed the government under Khandu. The Congress managed to get only four seats.

Late night dealings help BJP steal Goa from Congress (2017)

Months after the drama had ended in Itanagar, another took place on the western coast of India in Goa’s capital Panaji where the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the 2017 assembly elections, with 17 seats in the 40-member assembly. It just needed four more MLAs to form the government. The BJP had finished second with 13 seats.

While senior Congress leader and in-charge of Goa, Digvijaya Singh, kept waiting for the party high command’s decision on tying up with the smaller parties, the BJP proved to be much more nimble-footed. Led by union road transport ,inister Nitin Gadkari and then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, the BJP started negotiations with the two regional allies — Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and Goa Forward Party (GFP). It was the negotiation skills of Gadkari and team that resulted in GFP, a party formed by Congress rebels, agreeing to join hands with the BJP. Ironically, the GFP had been very critical of the BJP during the elections.

Having stitched the alliance, Manohar Parrikar was appointed the chief minister, even though the Congress complained that as the single largest party, it should have been invited by the governor for forming the government first.

Falling in Imphal (2017)

Almost at the same as Goa, BJP also played the same trick on the same rival in Imphal, capital of north-eastern state of Manipur, forming yet another government despite lacking numbers. Here, too, the Congress had emerged as single largest party and with 28 seats in a 60-member assembly, it was just three short of a full majority. The BJP was distant second with only 21 seats.

Once again, Himanta Biswa Sarma played key role in winning over regional parties. Besides Sarma, two senior union ministers — Piyush Goyal and Prakash Javadekar — also camped in the state and within days the party announced former Congress leader N. Biren Singh, who had switched to the BJP, as the CM-designate.

After hectic negotiations, the BJP along with ally NPP’s four MLAs, five MLAs from regional parties and one Congress MLA, who defected to the BJP, met Governor Najma Heptullah to stake claim to form the government and Singh became the first BJP CM of the state.

Two too many in Meghalaya (2018)

A year later, in Meghalaya, the BJP again outwitted the Congress despite having won  just two seats in the 60-member House in the 2018 elections, while the Congress had won 21 seats and the National People’s Party (NPP), a BJP ally at the Centre as well as in Manipur, had bagged 19. BJP again moved rapidly to lure smaller parties to join an alliance led by NPP and its leader Conrad Sangma became the chief minister. Alexander Hek, one of the two BJP MLAs, was made a minister in the Meghalaya cabinet. The BJP however continued to poach MLAs from Congress even after Sangma came to power.

Long drawn out Karnataka (2019)

Having successfully poached state after state from the Congress and without any checks, BJP’s political maneouvres to gain power became more brazen and open. One of the most high profile power struggles was visible in Karnataka where the BJP did not spare anything — money, muscle, central investigating agencies and of course a lot of subterfuge in gaining power in the richest state in south India. Here the Congress proved to be more nimble footed than the BJP and even though the BJP had emerged as the single largest party with 105 MLAs and Congress had only 74, the Congress rapidly stitched an alliance with the JD(S) and offered the top post of chief minister to junior partner’s leader H.D. Kumaraswamy. Even though the Congress-JDS staked claim to form the government, the governor invited BJP leader B S Yediyurappa to form the government. He was sworn in as the chief minister but with the Congress-JDS holding a majority, BSY government could not prove its majority and fell after three days.

This paved the way for the coalition to come to power. However, it was evident that neither BSY nor BJP would let the government function. Right from the moment Kumaraswamy took charge, rumours were afloat about ‘Operation Lotus’ referring to attempts to topple the government and bring back the BJP to power. After several months of attempts, amidst high drama where MLAs of both the Congress-JDS and the BJP were taken and kept in five-star resorts to prevent poaching by the rival, the BJP was able to win over 17 MLAs of the ruling coalition who resigned one after the other from the assembly. There were numerous reports and telephone recordings that Congress and JDS claimed proved that BJP had offered large amounts of money and protection from anti-corruption inquiries to win the MLAs. Finally, with the government reduced to a minority, Kumaraswamy lost trust vote in assembly and BSY was installed as chief minister again in July 2019.

Appeasing a ‘Maharaja’ in Madhya Pradesh (2020)

In the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh in December 2018, the Congress emerged as single largest party, with five MLAs more than the BJP, but three short of a majority. Kamal Nath formed the government with help of independent and BSP MLAs. But right from the beginning there was friction between Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia who had also been angling for the top position. The BJP saw its opportunity and began working on Scindia. Finally, about 15 months later, Scindia quit the Congress along with 20 other MLAs, reducing the Kamal Nath government to a minority and this paved the way for Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP to take over as CM for a fourth term.

Over the years, the BJP has become more aggressive and more blatant about its power to bring down any government. During the Lok Sabha election campaign in 2019, addressing an election rally in West Bengal’s Srirampore in Hooghly district, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “Didi, even your MLAs will desert you when the BJP wins the polls on May 23. Your 40 MLAs are in contact with us.”

This was a brazen threat by a Prime Minister to steal a powerful mandate given to an opposition party. True enough, with assembly elections approaching in West Bengal, some MLAs and even a few ministers have resigned from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and joined the BJP.

The opposition parties have been calling out and criticising this ‘power at any cost’ attitude of the BJP. Last year, after having toppled the Congress government in Bhopal, the BJP had begun a similar campaign in Jaipur, this time targeting another young leader of the Congress, Sachin Pilot, who has had an uneasy relationship with Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who accused the BJP of buying over MLAs to destabilise the Congress government in the state, even as the deadly coronavirus outbreak continued to affect the country. Gehlot alleged that the BJP, which is the main opposition in the state, was offering MLAs up to INR 150 million or ‘favours’ to switch allegiances and help topple his government. Gehlot also referred to changes in the government in both Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. “The BJP’s (true) face has been exposed ever since their victory in 2014. What they first did covertly, they now do overtly. You saw this in Goa, Madhya Pradesh and the north-eastern states,” said Gehlot.

The repeated undemocratic change of elected governments in India is little short of theft of the popular mandate. It calls for a review of the anti-defection law and it is time for the Supreme Court as well as the Election Commission to institute steps that the people’s mandate at the ballot box does not end up being stolen in shady backroom deals.

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