As the election barometer picks up the readings across the five states, the key findings glaringly hint at MLAs jumping ship for a pronounced want of tickets to get reelected. Some star poachings can also be seen in the endless game of one-upmanship which is only seen during election season.
Over the years, the manner in which the sitting leaders and even serving ministers have started switching parties after the announcement of the assembly elections shows how India’s democracy is plagued by primitive and opportunistic politics. Although the defections took place in all the states having elections in a month, Uttar Pradesh drew all the spotlights.
The reason was the three ministers of the Yogi government – Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, Dharam Singh Saini, and a dozen other MLAs left the BJP and took refuge in the Samajwadi Party. Like these three ministers, most of the MLAs who left the BJP were earlier in the BSP and had joined the BJP only during the last elections.
Just as these ministers and MLAs left BJP and went to SP, similarly many leaders of other parties including SP turned to BJP. Similar situations were also seen in Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Goa. This Bermuda Triangle of shuttling is in a never-ending loop every election season. At other times during their term, they sit snugly in their chairs waiting for their term to end and check the waters when the elections are near.
Clichéd and ridiculous arguments cited for defection
Leaders who choose to defect generally have similar clichéd arguments. Some say that the people of their caste fraternity were being neglected, while some voters accuse the MLAs of neglecting their constituency. The leaders never tell or confide why they realize the flaws they mention when they decide to change parties. And invariably, they only defect after the elections are announced and they sense they won’t be handed out tickets?
They don’t even tell whether they ever raised their particular concerns within the party during periodic meetings behind closed doors. It is indeed ridiculous that Swami Prasad Maurya accused that the helpless Dalits and Backward Classes remained unemployed and that the small-medium-class traders were also neglected. Didn’t he realize that he was himself the Minister of Labour and Employment?
After all, why did he not work for the unemployed being a minister for five years? Most of the leaders who left the BJP had alleged that Dalits and the Backward Classes were being neglected in the Yogi government. These leaders seem to have forgotten that the resounding victory of the BJP in the last assembly elections as well as in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was due to the belief and votes of the same Dalits and Backward Classes.
Similarly, they are also ignoring the fact that the money received directly by the poor, farmers, and women in their Jan Dhan accounts through digital payments, has also empowered a large section to look after their broader interests instead of blindly voting in the face of caste-community.
The defeatist purpose of self-interest
It is a plain fact that leaders defect for personal gain. Some are afraid of not getting tickets, while some do not see their demand being fulfilled that along with them, their family members and relatives should also get tickets. Some, sensing the displeasure of the people in their area, turn to a new party that’s conducive in order to contest elections from other areas.
Leaders often take the protective cover of ideology, but the truth is that they have no clear-cut ideology themselves. They start praising the ideology of the party they go to, while they have been criticizing and condemning it until some time ago before the crossover.
The irony is that many times voters also fall for it as they are helpless and transactional in nature. India anyway is starved of strong local, idealistic faces who will carry forward their dreams and help them reach their goals. This is why we hero-worship and take refuge in a new, fresh face that crops up every now and then.
These fairweather and ship-jumping leaders not only make the party they leave uncomfortable, but they also create problems for the party they subsequently join. It also creates a setback for the incumbent or the other shortlisted leader preparing to contest from that particular constituency.
The disillusionment sprouting from the absence of an ideology results in defection once the polling dates are announced ticket distribution begins and candidates are declared. The sitting MLA or minister starts the attrition and signals the migration when he/she finds his/her name is not on the list. They anyway start getting hints and inputs a few months earlier but won’t quit then as they have to stick to their chairs. They can’t be a rebel without proper cushioning.
Every single party faces this tussle due to the whimsical contenders of an election ticket but what are the lessons being learned is the pertinent question. The circuitous route of switching parties between Dalit-Hindutva-Yadav-oriented parties causes a cross-pollination of the intrinsic DNA and further dilutes each party’s ideology.
Political parties should initiate internal reforms
Whatever the claims made by the political parties, their process of selection of candidates is not transparent and riddled with caste equations. Some parties do say that they conduct anonymous surveys in the runup to the elections to find out who can win and how is the incumbent perceived in their scorecard of hits and misses.
But, it is quite doubtful that such surveys give them the right picture as the sample size is always debatable. It is also difficult to know whether the booth-level opinion of the voters of a particular region is taken in such surveys as the on-ground operation is a vast, tedious and detailed exercise.
Sometimes, it is seen that party workers also have little or no role in the selection of candidates. They are voiceless as the high command culture pervades all through. By law, it should be that whoever becomes the impending candidate, the people of that particular constituency should also have some role in his/her selection. Only then will it strengthen democracy.
After all, why can’t it be in India like in some other countries that party workers should be given the right to choose candidates? If the United States’ primary process is adopted in the selection of our candidates, then India’s democracy will see a dramatic change. Selecting the candidate to represent their interests with the participation of the workers will not only curb factionalism, rebellion, cross-pollination, and infiltration but also far deserving candidates will come to the fore and into the limelight.
Since there is arbitrariness in the selection of candidates, the candidates who are unable to bag a ticket start digging and weakening the very foundations of their own party until they decide to jump ship. Electoral politics is not for every party worker or leader since being a popular face with a winnability quotient forms a major part of the consideration set.
The election commission must be bestowed with more powers
It is high time that the Election Commission should be given some more powers to strengthen our democracy. At present, the Election Commission does not have any such authority to take any action against those who change parties at the time of elections. They also have no proper authority to prevent candidates with questionable track records from contesting elections.
It should be explicitly noted that another serious problem is the natural tendency to win elections on the basis of money and freebies mongering. These blatant flaws are a clear blot on India’s democracy. At equal intervals, the media and socio-economic organizations draw the attention of political parties towards electoral reforms, but they are shoved to the sidelines.
Parties should pay heed to their concerns as it is a good feedback mechanism even if it is prone to be motivated and skewed by certain external factors. It is anyway up to the party and its select committees to perform the checks and balances. Politics is often imprisoned in the hands of those who have made it a profession under the guise of public service and who go to any extent to fulfill their selfish interests.
Social causes and services are endangered to be over-commercialized in the hands of detrimental politics that do not bode well for the various demographic indices. Hanging onto one’s ideology is more important than hanging onto one’s chair.
Author – Nagesh Rajan
Nagesh grew up in Kolkata and was drawn into all things intellectual and worldly. Being a commerce graduate, he has varied professional experience drawn from banking, sports marketing, taxation, business development, and advertising over the years across cities. He’s also an avid quizzer, film buff, and a news junkie to boot.