In the Karnataka Assembly election 2018, polling for which took place at 222 constituencies on Saturday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fielded seven former Congressmen. Of them, 6 were sitting MLAs – and four with consecutive terms in the Karnataka Assembly. How will they perform for their new party in the crucial election, where the BJP wishes to wrest control from incumbent Congress in the latter’s last citadel?
If the electoral success rate of those who have quit Congress and contested for the BJP in recent state elections is anything to go by, a lot might be riding for the saffron party on these seven candidates.
Business Standard takes a look at the performance of such candidates in state elections since 2016.
Nearly two months ago, the BJP created history by winning 35 Assembly seats on its own in Tripura to dethrone the ruling CPI(M) and form a government in the northeastern state along with ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT). This was the first time that the BJP had ever won a seat in Tripura, where it had been contesting since 1983. BJP’s vote share surged to 43 per cent from a meagre 1.54 per cent in the previous election, whereas the Congress’ was reduced to less than 2 per cent from almost 37 per cent during the same period.
It is not that Congress leaders did not win in Tripura; the problem lay in the fact that they won on BJP tickets!
Almost every state election in India since 2016 where BJP has either won or improved its numbers, many Congress leaders – sometimes even sitting MLAs – have defected from their party to join and contest on BJP tickets. And, in most cases, they have won.
For instance, in Tripura BJP fielded 10 Congress rebels who were MLAs in either 2013 or 2008. Nine of them won their seats for the BJP. These rebel candidates included Biswabandhu Sen, Dilip Sarkar and Ratan Lal Nath, each of whom had had two consecutive terms in the Tripura Assembly for the Congress party.
Likewise, in Assam, BJP fielded seven Congress rebels in 2016 state elections, including the Northeast strongman Himanta Biswa Sarma – and all these candidates won. In Uttarakhand state elections 2017, BJP fielded eight Congress turncoats, including Yashpal Arya and Harak Singh Rawat with consecutive Assembly terms for the Congress since 2002. Seven of the eight candidates won from their seats.
According to Hilal Ahmed, an associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), the current situation of party defection is like a monopoly market system, where only one firm is in control and all others are wanting to align with it for personal gains – the BJP being the one in control in the political monopoly.
“BJP is a kind of political monopoly… There are two possibilities: One, to create a coalition. And two, not to create a coalition and rather merging into the monopoly. In a market-like situation, you align with the most powerful party, the BJP in this case,” he says.
Ahmed is of the view that the BJP has become more powerful since 2014. Now it is not interested in making coalitions, unlike in the 2000s. Instead, it identifies and attracts powerful individuals to expand its mass base.
“BJP is not interested in keeping NDA alive. Now, this is not an institution-to-institution coalition. Here, a few powerful individuals are identified… BJP cannot start creating a mass base from below. So, what is needed is that you just go to the region concerned and appropriate those who actually have some kind of a political backing there. This is what they did in Assam, and this is what they did in Tripura,” he adds.
It’s not just the Congress that has seen its leaders moving to the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has not been very strong for decades, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) were equally affected by party leaders defecting to the BJP. As many as 13 rebel MLAs of the SP, BSP or Congress contested and won on BJP tickets in the 2017 state elections. Interestingly, of the 312 BJP MLAs in the current UP Assembly, 47 are those who contested the 2012 state elections on an SP, BSP or Congress ticket.