A few days before Bhagalpur went to polls on April 24, Ram Vilas Paswan campaigned for BJP candidate Shahnawaz Hussain. Paswan, who quit the National Democratic Alliance after the 2002 Gujarat riots on the issue of secularism, returned to the alliance earlier this year.
Targeting the constituency’s sizeable Muslim population, Paswan said projecting the BJP as communal was a trap to keep Muslims insecure, reminding them that the Bhagalpur (1989) and anti-Sikh (1984) riots happened under Congress.
Wasn’t he opposing the BJP for being ‘communal’ for long? Didn’t he walk up to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s house in 2004, and in 2012, to push for an alliance with Congress?
On the same stage, BJP leaders invested their energy in criticizing the Nitish Kumar government’s plans, afsarshahi (excessive power to bureaucracy) and corruption. But aren’t they, as partners of the ruling coalition for eight years, partially culpable for the government’s ‘sins’?
In Bihar’s Madhubani, it was the JD-U’s turn to answer some questions. Its candidate, Ghulam Gaus, was the RJD’s leader of the opposition in the state’s legislative council. After having criticized JD-U for years, he is now riding chief minister Nitish Kumar’s development bandwagon to seek votes.
This phenomenon — of turncoats in politics — is neither new nor confined to Bihar. The RSS-groomed Gujarat BJP leader Shankarsinh Vaghela suddenly became the state’s Congress chief.
Institutionally, the irony is even more striking. Congress withdrew support to IK Gujral’s United Front government because they wanted DMK out, after parts of the Jain Commission report on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination indicated DMK’s tacit support to LTTE. In less than seven years, Congress and DMK were to contest polls together. In between, DMK — outcome of the Dravidian movement that resisted north Indian and Hindi hegemony — aligned with the BJP, the quintessential Hindi heartland party.
So do Indian politicians have no ideological core? Is it sheer opportunism that makes them go with the tide?
The reasons for the shift are complicated. Many socialists, for instance, began their careers with a strong anti-Congress and anti-BJP streak. But as the centre got bipolar, they had to choose the party that would help, not affect, their vote base of Dalits or Muslims or intermediate castes. In some cases, a politician tries to find refuge elsewhere if squeezed in one outfit.
“Call it political survival, not opportunism. What will a neta do with ideology if he becomes irrelevant in the rat-race?” said a political veteran.
This quest for survival might be driving India’s politicians today, but the U-turns cannot be justified.