BJP forms govt in Goa, Manipur: MLA-defection politics not new; Telangana, AP perfected it

Following the recently concluded Assembly elections in five states, the Congress party must have been left frothing at the mouth. A Sunday is a long time in politics, it must've realised to its peril, as the election scoreboard of 3-2 in its favour now reflects 1-4, in just the matter of a day.

In Goa and Manipur, which voted in hung Assemblies, the BJP has come from behind in this 2017 version of the hare and tortoise story, and pipped it to the post. The Congress was caught napping, just like in the fable.

In both the states, BJP had won fewer seats than Congress. In Goa, BJP had 13 to Congress' 17, and on the face of it, had no moral right to try to form the government. Many of its sitting MLAs, including chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, had lost, which meant a rejection of BJP's governance by the Goans.

Prime Minister Nrendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar during an election campaign rally in Panaji, Goa. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar during an election campaign rally in Panaji, Goa. PTI

But BJP decided to offer a PPP model – Power in Partnership with Parrikar – to smaller Goan parties. It worked and among others, the Goa Forward Party, that was formed on a strong anti-BJP plank, decided to play the part of the 'Panjim chameleon'. Two of its three MLAs have supported the BJP, in its bid to form the government.

So while the Congress party was struggling to elect or select a leader, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar moved in fast, and was appointed as the Goa chief minister in a midnight coup. He is expected to resign from his post shortly, get the letters of support and secure the Governor's invite to form the government by showing that he has the numbers.

Congress needs to learn that to qualify for Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri (who wants to be chief minister), you need to be good at the fastest finger first round.

But what does the BJP make of the people's verdict, which was seen as an anti-incumbency vote against the party? In the saffron party's book, the verdict was against Parsekar, who has been given the boot by the people. Basically interpreting the result, the way it suits you.

On Sunday, the BJP was street-smart and worked fast to change the game all across the country, from southwest India to the North East. In Manipur, Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 MLAs, and BJP trailed with 21. But other smaller parties, like the National People's Party, Naga People's Front, Lok Janshakti Party are part of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), an anti-Congress front of regional parties, and could bring nine MLAs to its kitty.

Add to that the fact that the BJP could be successful in securing the support of the lone Independent MLA in the state and the Trinamool MLA, the party should cross the half way mark comfortably.

But what has shocked everyone are reports that the Congress is vulnerable, with over a dozen MLAs reportedly mulling splitting the legislature party and crossing over to the BJP. Should that happen, the Congress may well be tempted to call Manipur a "political dacoity".

One Congress MLA, Shyamkumar Singh, has already defected and will reportedly resign and seek re-election on a BJP ticket. What it will do is to bring the House strength to 59, and the magic number to 30.

Congress is very upset with the governors in both Manipur and Goa, for not inviting the single largest party to take a shot at forming the government. But as former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah pointed out in a tweet, in 2002 even though the National Conference was the single largest party, the Governor chose to invite the PDP-Congress combine because he was satisfied that they had the numbers.

It is not as if defections are new to the Indian political theatre. What is brazen is the manner in which MLAs are ready to subvert the mandate.

Take Telangana for instance, in the last 33 months, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti has added buffer to its slender majority in the Assembly by wooing 12 of the 15 Telugu Desam MLAs and 7 of the 21 Congress legislators to its side.

It would still have been alright if the TDP MLAs had moved out in a group. But they defected in ones and twos during this prolonged period, with the Speaker and even the governor turning a blind eye to the unethical and constitutional violation. Some of these defectors are ministers in K Chandrasekhar Rao's cabinet. By the time the case pending in the Hyderabad High court sees a verdict, the term of the House may well be over.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu cried foul over his legislators being poached upon in Telangana but he realised it was a model worth plagiarising. He got 20-odd YSR Congress MLAs to move over to his side in the last few months and some of them are likely to be made ministers in April.

Yet, nothing prevents both these leaders from behaving like paragons of political virtue. In fact, compared to what KCR and Naidu have done, the BJP's effort to get the numbers in Goa and Manipur has largely been done by securing the support of established smaller parties.

Of course, that the party would have used allurements of all kinds to get them to fall in line cannot be ruled out. The Congress has alleged that CISF personnel were used by the BJP at Imphal airport to take away Independent MLA Ashabuddin by force, a charge that BJP has since denied.

If the Congress legislature party in Manipur does indeed split under BJP pressure, the 'Congressification' of BJP would be complete. Remember 1984, when the Congress engineered a split in the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, just so that NT Rama Rao could be ousted as the chief minister.

What this also means is that the political economy is being de-MLA-tised. For most of them, be it in Goa, Manipur, Telangana or Andhra, it is no longer about the party manifesto they went to their voters with. Each one of them is now a political freelancer, available for a private auction in the Indian Political League.

The hammer unfortunately falls on the moral fabric of India's political system.

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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2017 11:49:19 IST

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