The swift manner in which the BJP formed the government in Goa and Manipur, both states where it came behind the Congress, could have only happened with advanced planning and crucial help from not just other political parties but also the Governor.
The Congress, perhaps complacent in the knowledge that as the single largest party it would be invited first, was busy discussing who the chief minister would be and, if the Governor of Goa is to be believed, hadn’t bothered to get in touch with her. This the party denies, but in any case, Governor Mridula Sinha has said that Manohar Parrikar landed at her office on Sunday, a day after the results were declared, with 21 letters of support. The Congress was given an appointment only on Tuesday. Sinha says she “studied and analysed” the MLAs who came along with Parrikar, using her skills as a psychologist, and then spoke to Arun Jaitley at night before arriving at a decision. If all this looks highly unusual, it is, but the deed is done and the Congress left foaming at the mouth.
Even worse, the Goa Forward Party, whose entire campaign was built around defeating the BJP, is now a key pillar of support of Parrikar’s government. It is difficult to believe that the BJP had not worked out some kind of deal with it much before the elections were held. And two Congress MLAs have quit and will join the BJP after being re-elected. Others may follow.
At the very least this shows that no one, but no one, is an untouchable for the BJP. The main criterion is winnability. From 2014, Congress party members have been moving into the BJP at a regular clip. And they often bring with them others, thus achieving two goals-strengthening the BJP and hollowing out the Congress.
Take Himanta Biswa Sarma. An old Congressman, he joined the BJP in 2015, sending shock waves in Assam. After being elected, he was sworn in as a minister. Manipur’s new chief minister is N Biren Singh, again a long-time Congressman, who was a trusted aide of the Congress CM Okram Ibobi Singh till he walked across to the rival party. He was suitably rewarded. In Uttarkhand, the BJP did not make Satpal Maharaj, who had left the Congress in 2014, the chief minister but gave cabinet berths to other defectors. Undoubtedly, Vishwajit Rane, who apparently left the Congress “in disgust”, but after winning on their ticket, will also be accommodated when he comes back.
The BJP is hardly the only party that takes defectors but given that it is deeply ideological and cadre based — which implies a certain long term commitment to the party’s ideals — the readiness to welcome outsiders on such a scale is surprising. If the old timers are unhappy, they have been effectively silenced by the party bosses from making their displeasure known. The Modi-Amit Shah strategy seems to be to take anyone who increases the party’s power base in the state
Though most of those who have walked into the BJP are from the Congress — veterans who command the loyalty of their followers and constituents — the BJP has begun to cast its eye on regional parties too, as seen most recently in the case of Swamy Prasad Maurya who defected from the BSP. Much to his dismay, he has not get anything for his efforts. Indeed, it is the regional parties — Trinamool Congress, BJD, JD (U) and even the Shiv Sena — which will be the BJP’s target in the coming months and years. They are the real political threat to the BJP’s growth and will have to be weakened.
For the moment these parties are well entrenched in their respective states, but they will not be able to withstand the onslaught of a powerful national party like the BJP— at the first sign of the regional party’s decline, the ones who have been feeling even a bit dissatisfied will cross over. In the run up to the elections to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, no less than five disgruntled Shiv Sena aspirants moved to the BJP which promised them tickets.
The BJPs strategy is clear — get enough people who can help the party form the government by any means necessary. It wants to come to power at any cost. The willingness to partner with the PDP in Kashmir and accept the continuous sniping by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra are part of that strategy — the BJP never loses sight of the main goal. In the north-east, where the BJP has traditionally been weak, it now has three governments, all run by former Congressmen.
Similar tactics will be employed in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and even Kerala. Where the Congress has a base, it will be weakened, if not demolished. Alternatively, it will go after elements in the Dravida parties or the Trinamool. The Congress has proved to be unsuccessful, even inept, in stemming this outward flow of its local stalwarts. Will the regional parties do any better?
Sidharth Bhatia is a journalist and commentator and founder editor of the www.thewire.in
The views expressed are personal