Karnataka, Goa, West Bengal: In trying to gain power for the sake of power, BJP may be turning into another version of Congress

  • the BJP is at an ascendant and it is rising as fast as its rivals are shrinking. The party recently launched a nationwide membership drive when Modi visited Varanasi

  • In contrast, Congress, the only other party with a national footprint, is in disarray. Electoral drubbing has caused its president Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, to quit

  • To maintain its electoral supremacy, therefore, it is imperative that BJP gives importance to ideological supremacy, retains its brand value and works towards instilling a new political culture in India's body politic

  • This is where the BJP will make a huge mistake if - in order to increase its footprint even faster instead of relying on organic expansion - it dips into bag of tricks to lure lawmakers from rival parties and engineer toppling of elected state governments

Even after suffering three reverses in the Hindi heartland last December, the BJP still has unprecedented dominance over national politics. It is in power in 16 states, way ahead of its rivals. The Congress is in power or has a share of the power in five states while regional parties are in power in seven. One state — Jammu and Kashmir — is under President's rule. This electoral dominance can be further put in perspective if we look at the recent Lok Sabha results.

In 16 states and Union Territories, alone BJP has bagged around 50 percent votes in the 2019 general elections that secured a second successive term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And if we count states such as Maharashtra and Bihar, then it has polled more than 50 percent vote share along with its allies. This is incredible electoral supremacy.

Moreover, 2019 was also the first time in history that BJP contested more seats, or Parliamentary Constituencies (PCs) than Congress since 1984, when it came on to the electoral arena. As Roshan Kishore points out in Hindustan Times, BJP's median vote share in 2019 in terms of PCs contested is "21 percentage points more than that of the Congress." Kishore considers median vote comparison at the PC-level as a batter metric of electoral dominance than a simple average (where too, BJP has hiked its vote share to 37 percent up from 31 percent in 2014) because a good showing in some seats can affect the average overall vote share.

Simply put, the BJP is at an ascendant and it is rising as fast as its rivals are shrinking. The party recently launched a nationwide membership drive when Modi visited Varanasi, his constituency, for the first time since winning a return mandate and it coincided with the birth anniversary of Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee.

 Karnataka, Goa, West Bengal: In trying to gain power for the sake of power, BJP may be turning into another version of Congress

Representational image of BJP flag. Reuters

In contrast, Congress, the only other party with a national footprint, is in disarray. Electoral drubbing has caused its president Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, to quit. The rudderless grand old party is suffering an existential crisis. As BJP goes from strength to strength, Congress remains clueless, headless and is battling a spate of resignations, factionalism and mass defection.

It is also worth noting that even in states where the BJP is not in power, barring a few southern states, it is either the principal Opposition party or has made deep inroads into areas where its reach was previously negligible. In the eastern seaboard states of Odisha and West Bengal, the recently held Lok Sabha (and in Odisha's case also Assembly) polls show that BJP has made stunning gains.

Political pundits have argued that BJP has benefitted from a Hindu consolidation in its meteoric rise. That is an oversimplification. A political expansion on this scale among vast swathes of a diverse, heterogeneous, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country wouldn't have been possible without increasing ideological traction. To maintain its electoral supremacy, therefore, it is imperative that BJP gives importance to ideological supremacy, retains its brand value and works towards instilling a new political culture in India's body politic.

The saffron unit's rise owes to a set of intricate social and economic factors that also includes Congress's erosion of credibility. It is simply not perceived as a party capable of governance anymore. This is where the BJP will make a huge mistake if - in order to increase its footprint even faster instead of relying on organic expansion - it dips into bag of tricks to lure lawmakers from rival parties and engineer toppling of elected state governments. To the BJP, it may seem like a Chanakyaneeti but the cost of doing so may prove to be prohibitive in the long run. And yet, its machinations in several states indicate that the BJP doesn't mind creating political instability to gain power through the backdoor.

In Karnataka, the nataka is heading towards a climax. If the Speaker agrees to call a trust vote, the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition will have to prove its numbers on the floor. That could be an uphill task given the fact that 16 MLAs from the coalition have tendered their resignations. A week has passed as the Speaker, a Congress appointee, staves off judicial pressure to employ delaying tactics with an aim to disqualifying the MLAs. Parallel efforts to 'convince' the rebel MLAs is also taking place. Despite these desperate manoeuvres from the Congress, the rebel MLAs seem steadfast on their decision.

KARNATAKA NEWS: FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES

Apart from the 16 coalition MLAs, two independent lawmakers, too, have quit their ministerial posts and expressed support for the BJP.

It is inconceivable that the BJP had no role to play in this drama despite its loud protestations. The MLAs have been moving around in chartered flights and staying at a posh Mumbai resort. It costs a considerable amount of money with no explanation regarding its source. The lawmakers have been arguing that their step to resign is "conscientious" and forced by the non-performance of the ruling coalition. It cannot be a coincidence that most of these 16 MLAs were without ministerial berths.

As this article in The Indian Express argues, "Is this the kind of politician that will help Modi fulfil his dream of a new India? And in this new India, will we continue to see the sordid spectacle of unreliable defectors locked up in fancy resorts in cities far away from their own to ensure that they do not change their minds?"

In Goa, the BJP has engineered mass defection in Congress with the result that 10 out of 15 MLAs, including Leader of Opposition Babu Kavlekar, have switched sides to join the saffron ranks. Many of these lawmakers, doubtless, had campaigned against a "communal" BJP for the better part of their political careers.

Chief minister Pramod Sawant, who had been running a coalition with Goa Forward Party (GFP) and independent MLAs, promptly dropped three members from GFP and Rohan Khaunte, an Independent MLA, from his Cabinet on Friday as BJP's numbers swelled to 27. Kavalekar, who was Leader of Opposition the other day, became the deputy chief minister on Monday.

In West Bengal, where the BJP made stunning inroads by bagging 18 out of 42 seats and pushing ruling Trinamool Congress into a corner in recent Lok Sabha polls, another mass defection might be in offing. BJP's chief Bengal strategist Mukul Roy, who founded the TMC along with chief minister Mamata Banerjee before he crossed over, has claimed that 107 legislators "are in touch" with the BJP and will soon leave their parties. Most are from the TMC, claimed Roy.

Given its political and ideological dominance, the BJP does not need to implement these subversions. The Congress-JD(S) coalition is waiting to collapse under its own weight. In Goa, the BJP was already in power. And in Bengal, the TMC is on backfoot. However, the BJP seems to be driven by an urgency in expanding its footprint. It ought to remember that when power is the only glue sans ideological commitment, loss of power will inevitably result in disintegration of the party. The BJP need only to look at Congress to understand the perils on its path.

Updated Date: Jul 15, 2019 13:12:36 IST