Organised defections debase Indian politics - GulfToday

Organised defections debase Indian politics

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

India politics

Kamal Nath with Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia and former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Reuters

India’s democratic system is going through the worst phase in its 72 years as a free nation.

The fate of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in Karnataka has been hanging in the balance for weeks with many legislators  belonging to the ruling coalition sending resignation letters to the Speaker of the Assembly and secluding themselves in hotels outside the state.

If the Speaker accepts their resignations the government will be in a minority in the house and collapse.

The Congress-JD(S) government was the result of a marriage of convenience, concluded hurriedly after last year’s Assembly election, to deny power to the Bharatiya Janata Party which, with 104 seats, was the largest party in the 222-member house but fell short of an absolute majority.  

The Congress, which had won 80 seats, quickly sealed the alliance by offering the post of Chief Minister to HD Kumaraswamy, leader of the JD(S), which had only 37 seats.

Few will shed tears for the Congress-JD(S) government as the coalition remained shaky throughout and the government did little to endear itself to the people. The issue, however, is not the fall of a government which no longer has a reason to exist but the unseemly manoeuvres to bring it about.

The BJP has disclaimed any involvement in the revolt in the Congress and the JD(S). However, recent events do not lend credence to its protestation of innocence.  

Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar, who flew to Mumbai to woo back the rebel legislators, was not able to meet them. The hotel where the legislators were staying refused to let him in, despite having reserved a room, and the Mumbai police detained him when he staged a protest. These point to likely BJP exertions.

A JD(S) legislator alleged that the BJP offered him Rs 400 million to defect. There are also reports that legislators had defected without taking any money. This suggests non-monetary considerations may also have been involved.

The BJP cannot be faulted for wanting to undo the Congress-JD(S) manoeuvre which cheated it out of power which was within its grasp. However, the manner in which it is seeking to achieve the end is patently undemocratic.

The BJP recently poached 10 of the Congress party’s 15 legislators in Goa, where it was firmly in power and rewarded three of the defectors with Cabinet posts. This indicates it is seeking to root out the country’s largest opposition party lock, stock and barrel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often talked of “Congress-free India”. The Karnataka and Goa developments have prompted the Congress to take steps to keep its flock together in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it is in power, and in Maharashtra, where it is in the opposition.

Karnataka Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar did not act upon their resignation letters of the Congress-JD(S) legislators as they were not submitted in the prescribed manner. The rebel MLAs then approached the Supreme Court.

The Court, unfortunately, failed to display the equanimity one expects from it. Last Thursday it asked the MLAs who were out of the state to submit their resignations to the Speaker in the prescribed manner by 6 p.m. that day and directed the Speaker to take a decision on the resignations before midnight.

The MLAs did not turn up before the Speaker and he took no decisions on the resignations. Instead, he filed an affidavit in which he sought recall of the court’s order, saying he needed time to examine the facts and take decisions on the resignations.

At this point, Chief Minister Kumaraswamy announced he was ready to seek a confidence vote in the Assembly. The Supreme Court now swung the other way and ordered the Speaker not to take any decision on the resignation letters till it considers the matter again today (Tuesday).

The trust vote is now expected on Thursday. The MLAs who put in their resignations now face the option of coming to the house and voting for the government they have disowned in compliance with the party whip or risk inviting disqualification for defying the whip.

Whether the legislators lose their membership through resignation or disqualification is a technical matter. The Congress-JD(S) decision to face the Assembly has the merit that it gives the legislature the opportunity to exercise its constitutional right to decide the fate of the government.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has alleged that the BJP was engineering defections with money power and threats and intimidations.  

The fate of a government and of legislators with easy consciences that permit quick switch of allegiance from one party to another are comparatively small matters. But organising defections, using whatever method, debases the political system and poses a serious threat to democracy.   

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