We will win the 2019 polls and after the 2019 victory, nobody will be able to remove us for the next 50 years,” said Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in September, 2018. “After these elections there will be no elections in 2024,” said BJP Lok Sabha MP from Unnao, Sakshi Maharaj. Looking at the political developments in Goa, Karnataka, West Bengal and several other states, it seems that the BJP is in a mad rush to ensure the same.
It had not been even a month after the declaration of results of the General Election, 2019, that, in the third week of June, as many as four of the Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP’s) Rajya Sabha members of Parliament (MPs) switched over to the BJP. Chandrababu Naidu, the TDP chief, was vacationing abroad with his family when he got the news.
The TDP had six MPs in the Rajya Sabha when four of them - TG Venkatesh, YS Chowdary, GM Rao and CM Ramesh - announced that they were joining the BJP, making a mockery of the Anti-Defection Act. They met Rajya Sabha chairman and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and submitted their resignation from the TDP.
There were enough indications much before Prasad and Maharaj’s announcements that the BJP will go for the jugular of Opposition parties if it won a decisive mandate in 2019. The poaching of the Congress’ Himanta Biswa Sharma in Assam and Mukul Roy of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) in West Bengal were early signs.
While both Sharma and Roy were hounded by the BJP for their alleged involvement in the Sarada Chit Fund Scam, they became holy cows soon after joining the saffron dispensation. It is widely known that agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) were used to pressure both these leaders to defect to the BJP. Eventually, both will be feted by the BJP rank and file as master strategists in their respective states. The BJP, it seems, is like the Ganga. One dip and all sins are washed away.
Roy had been in news last week for announcing that 107 MLAs from the CPI(M), the Congress and the AITC were about to join the BJP. A top AITC leader told National Herald, “This had started well before the Lok Sabha elections. The defection of Nisith Pramanik, Arjun Singh and others to the BJP involved
huge amounts of money, unprecedented in West Bengal’s electoral history. How do you fight a party which is offering upwards of Rs 10 crore to a leader to defect?”
He went on: “Not just leaders, the BJP has been spending massive amounts amongst the rural and mofussil youths for the last three years. They have gifted them motorbikes and free mobile phones. One can attribute their success in as many as 18 Lok Sabha seats to this money factor.”
There is hardly any doubt that the Narendra Modi and Amit Shah-led BJP has been successful in poaching Opposition legislators and MPs owing to its enormous money power. A source in the Goa Congress said, “In Goa, they dangled three offers in front of our legislators. One, Rs 25 crore plus a ministry. Two, Rs 50 crore but no ministry. And three, Rs 60 crore but no ticket next time. Tell me. How do you combat such money power?” While horse trading in Indian politics is certainly not new or the exclusive preserve of the BJP, one can be pretty much sure that the BJP is possibly the inventor of a voluntary retirement scheme in electoral politics.
It is interesting to note that of the 10 Congress legislators in Goa who defected to the BJP, four have been made ministers. Chandrakant Kavlekar has become the Deputy Chief Minister. One wonders whether, in the race to rid the country of the Congress as BJP leaders have repeatedly asserted, the BJP in turn is being “Congressified” as a leader of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) described it.
“In Karnataka, they have used both money and muscle power. We can’t even get physical access to the legislators holed up in Mumbai. Just a few days back, a JD(S) legislator publicly stated how he was offered Rs 30 crore to defect to the BJP. It
is a tough task to save the Karnataka government in spite of the
best efforts being put in by KPCC president Dinesh Gundu Rao,” said Suraj MN Hegde, former AICC secretary and prominent Congress leader from Karnataka.
Dinesh Gundu Rao had another explanation. He was of the opinion that the BJP, by indulging in horse-trading, was actually conspiring to get the rebel Congress and JD(S) MLAs disqualified.
“If the rebels MLAs are disqualified, they (BJP members) can happily form the government and become ministers without bothering about accommodating the rebels,” he said. “We are worried about their future as they have been in our party for so many years and we have worked together all along. The BJP is using the rebels for their gains. They will be neither here nor there,” he added.
However, another prominent member of the Congress in Karnataka thinks the party should introspect rather than just blame the BJP. “The BJP has always been waiting for this chance. We have to concede that we presented them with the right opportunity. How did we do that? Unless we understand that, how will we rebuild our party,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Hegde agreed that introspection was needed to ascertain if fly by night operators joining the party on election eve were benefiting the Congress.
Hegde nonetheless said that Rahul Gandhi’s leadership was indispensable. “You have to understand that the BJP leadership is totally unscrupulous and devoid of any ethics. They are finding out the respective weaknesses of our leaders and preying on them. There is no ideology at play here. We need someone as strong and vocal as Rahul Gandhi,” he added.
Actually both Ravi Shankar Prasad and Sakshi Maharaj had expressed in their words a ‘Modi-fied’ version of the RSS master plan for India. The ‘One Nation, One Culture’ premise of the RSS has been subtly enlarged to include ‘One Party, One Leader’ as well. In the RSS scheme of things, the Hindu Rashtra does not need democracy.
“They are systematically murdering democracy. They care two hoots for our Constitution. They are trampling our federal structure,” says Trauson D’Mello of the Congress’ Goa state unit.
“One of the reasons they chose Goa is also because the state neighbours Karnataka and the BJP wanted to create a psychological impact there. Now, the game plan is out in the open. Every institution, ranging from the CBI to the Election Commission of India (ECI) is under their thumb. But this is going to cost the BJP in Goa quite dearly,” he said.
Asked to elaborate on what he meant, he added “As a Congressman who interacts at the grassroots level every day of his life, I know people have been severely angered by these defections. People are firmly rallying behind the Congress.”
The leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, too, feels that these moves show rather the weakness of the BJP than its strength. “It shows a party which is still very afraid of the Congress in spite of having won a decisive mandate. The BJP knows that it won on a false narrative of macho nationalism. They have failed to deliver on the crucial fronts of economy, job creation, healthcare, etc and know that jingoistic nationalism does not work every time. That’s why they want to weaken the Congress.”