How the BJP has become another Congress, writes Rajdeep Sardesai
Defecting MLAs or MPs should not be allowed to become ministers during their five-year termUpdated: Jul 19, 2019 07:43 IST
We Goans are often unfairly lampooned as happy-go-lucky, alcohol-swigging and siesta-loving beach bums. I use the word “we” cautiously, since I truly haven’t spent enough time in Goa, nor can I speak fluent Konkani. But my late father remains the only Goan-Goa-born cricketer to play for India; a good enough reason, I guess, for me to qualify as an honorary Goan. But if you still believe that “we” Goans are carefree and relaxed in our idyllic susegado lifestyle, then do meet our politicians: The contrast between the natural beauty of Goa and the ugliness of its politics could not be starker.
Just observe what has happened in Goa in the past week. Ten Congress Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) switched over to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, and within 48 hours, three of them were made ministers. In Karnataka, we have witnessed “retail” defections and individual MLAs being poached and transported from one five-star hotel to another amid heavy security. In Goa, we are much more transparent in our dealings — so the 10 MLAs made a clean break from the Congress, and the next day, the “wholesale” defectors were warmly greeted as conquering heroes by the BJP leadership in New Delhi. Since the MLAs constituted two-thirds of the 15-member Congress Legislative Party, the anti-defection law did not apply.
So who are these prize catches for the BJP? One of them, Chandrakant Kavlekar, who was the Leader of the Opposition, is now the deputy chief minister in the same government that he steadfastly opposed till recently. Kavlekar has been accused of running an illegal gambling business across the Konkan region, and his premises were raided in 2017 by the Goa police. Now, as deputy chief minister, he presumably will enjoy immunity from prosecution.
Then, there is the colourful and controversial Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate, who faces a serious charge of raping a minor in 2016. Barely two months ago, Monserrate won the prestigious Panaji by-poll by defeating the right-hand man of former Goa chief minister, the late Manohar Parikkar. During an acrimonious campaign, the BJP raised a “Save Goa from Babush” slogan, pointing to his extended tryst with criminality. Today, Monserrate is the BJP’s poster boy. His wife, Jennifer, who also defected with him, has been made a minister. It is almost as if by switching sides, Monserrate has gained political respectability.
It isn’t just Monserrate. In state after state, the BJP has now chosen to either actively encourage, or tacitly induce, key Opposition leaders with questionable backgrounds to break away. It is almost as if you swim in the lotus pond, your sins get washed away. Till he joined the BJP in 2015, Assam’s original Congress strongman, Himanta Biswa Sarma, was accused by the saffron party of being involved in the multi-crore Saradha scam. The same was the case with Mukul Roy, once a close confidante of Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Roy is now the chief architect of the BJP’s campaign in the state. The moment Sarma and Roy joined the BJP, the probe into their alleged involvement in the scam slowed down. In Maharashtra, Narayan Rane, once accused by the BJP of embodying corruption in the state, is now a Rajya Sabha MP with the BJP’s support. Last month, two Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MPs from Andhra Pradesh, against whom the previous Narendra Modi government had initiated criminal cases for financial fraud, were welcomed into the BJP.
Where does this leave the BJP’s lofty, oft-repeated claim of being a party with a difference? While a rampant BJP may take comfort in its growing footprint across the country, there are long-term costs involved in seeking short-term gains. When you forge ‘stable’ governments through brazen exhibitions of political immorality — be it in Goa, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh or Manipur — you cede the right to claim the moral high ground. How do the Monserrates and Kavlekars fit in with the prime ministerial invocation of creating a freshly minted na khaoonga, na khane doonga anti-corruption political culture?
Increasingly, the BJP appears to be mimicking the very political force it has replaced as the dominant party of our time, the Congress. It was, after all, in the high noon of Indira Gandhi’s rule in the 1970s and 1980s, that the Opposition governments were routinely destabilised and dismissed, and the Aya Ram, Gaya Ram culture was institutionalised. At that time, the BJP, and its predecessor, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, led the Opposition charge against the Indira Gandhi government’s political overreach. Today, the party stands exposed for blatantly following the Indira stylebook. Maybe, the time has come to consider a simple amendment to the anti-defection law: Any MLA or MP, who defects during their five-year term, cannot be made a minister for the duration of that assembly/Parliament. But who will dare bite the hand that feeds them?
Post-script: The art of defections was initiated in Haryana when an MLA Gaya Lal changed parties thrice in a day in 1967. Goa still hasn’t matched that individual record, but, collectively, we have clearly shown the way to the rest of the country when it comes to political turncoats. Maybe it is time to change ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’ to ‘Aya Monserrate, Gaya Monserrate’, and relieve Haryana of the ignominy of being indelibly associated with shifting political loyalties for way too long.
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author
The views expressed are personal