Keeping up with UP| Snub to defector is Ghosi bypoll’s biggest takeaway - Hindustan Times
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Keeping up with UP| Snub to defector is Ghosi bypoll’s biggest takeaway

BySunita Aron
Sep 12, 2023 09:24 AM IST

The true learning from the bypoll is this: The ‘Ayaram Gayaram’ phenomenon in Indian politics is an old malaise, and only voters can cure it

There are three major takeaways from the Ghosi bypoll results declared last week.

Samajwadi Party workers celebrating the victory of party candidate Sudhakar Singh in the Ghosi constituency by-election, in Lucknow. (FILE PHOTO) PREMIUM
Samajwadi Party workers celebrating the victory of party candidate Sudhakar Singh in the Ghosi constituency by-election, in Lucknow. (FILE PHOTO)

One, voters don’t always reward party hopping. Seasoned politician and Other Backward Class (OBC) leader Dara Singh Chauhan, who had started his career with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and moved to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) that pursued diverse ideological paths, lost the bypolls to his SP candidate, Sudhakar Singh.

Chauhan, in his 60s, was a cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government from 2017 to 2022. After enjoying an almost five-year stint as forest minister, he quit the BJP on the eve of the 2022 assembly polls, accused the saffron party of anti-OBC politics and joined the SP. The elections were due in February-March 2022 and he shifted his allegiance on January 12, 2022. The SP leadership obliged him with a ticket and he won from Ghosi. But his political calculations went awry as the BJP returned to power.

To recall, the state witnessed a see-saw electoral battle in 2022 with some even guesstimating a hung House or the return of Akhilesh Yadav to power despite the huge seat margin that he had to cover against the BJP. In the 2017 polls, the BJP had won 312 of the 403 seats and the SP, only 47. However, simmering anger among farmers even after the withdrawal of contentious farm laws by the Modi government and Akhilesh Yadav’s judicious alliances to improve his party’s hold among non-Yadav backward communities like Rajbhars and Mauryas, seemed to present a favourable atmosphere for SP.

Chauhan returned to the BJP in July 2023, hoping to once again become a minister in the Yogi government. He, along with his compatriot Om Prakash Rajbhar of Suheldev Bahujan Samaj Party (SBSP), were ministers in waiting as they had the blessings of the BJP's central leadership and had met the chief minister too.

But the voters shattered the dreams of a turncoat despite aggressive campaigning by the BJP. It’s a loss of face for Rajbhar too who went door-to-door to campaign.

Power minister AK Sharma camped in the constituency, several ministers addressed election meetings, and Chief Minister Yogi also addressed a rally in which he spoke about the infamous State Guest House incident of 1995 in which Mayawati had faced the fury of SP workers, so as to enrage the audience against Sudhakar Singh, the SP nominee. The BSP leadership also advised its voters to stay away from polling or press NOTA. The Dalits ignored Mayawati’s call to stay away from the polling booth or press the None of the Above (NOTA) button.

The voters were angry as this was the seventh time since 2012 that they were compelled to choose their representative: thrice in the assembly elections, twice each in the Lok Sabha poll and the recent assembly by-polls. This includes a 2019 bypoll necessitated after the sitting BJP MLA Phagu Singh Chauhan was made the Bihar governor. The voters’ snub to a political turncoat is an indication of their maturity, and is, on the whole, a good sign for Indian democracy.

The second takeaway is that caste consideration played little role this time, as the much talked about consolidation of PDA (Pichra, Dalit and Alpasankhyak) as well as the upper castes favoured the SP's Rajput candidate Sudhakar Singh. Interestingly, Yogi is the tallest Rajput leader in the state.

The third takeaway from the by-poll results, though ambitious, is that a united opposition can give a fight to the robust BJP which won 62 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But a single assembly win is different from the general elections as issues are different. However, the win bears scrutiny coming as it does so close to the formation of a 28-opposition party coalition.

Thus, a correlated takeaway might seem far-fetched, but one could consider this to be a trailer of things to come in the 2024 general elections. “India is a team, PDA a strategy. From UP, Bharat started the winning spree of INDIA. It is a defeat of defectors,” Akhilesh Yadav said soon after his party's candidate won Ghosi.

The prompt counter by the BJP, which is aiming to win 75 of the 80 seats in the state, was that the 2024 polls were a contest between Gulliver and Lilliputians.

On the subject of defection

“Ayaram, Gayaram” is a malaise in Indian politics since 1967 when in Haryana, an MLA by the name of Gaya Lal, elected from the Hasanpur constituency, thrice changed his party affiliation from the Congress to the Janata Party in a fortnight, and then, memorably, thrice in a day. “Gaya Lal has become Aaya Lal,” the voters joked at the time. But the phenomenon is visible in all political parties.

Some experts are of the view that the only deterrent for such unethical moves is a permanent loss of seat or barring the turncoat from holding any public office.

CB Pandey, a legal expert, told HT that the defector's disqualification for a full term could be a major deterrent to those who switch loyalties and resign.

The ministry of law and justice had constituted a committee on October 1, 2010, on electoral reforms to recommend the government concrete ways in which the electoral system can be strengthened. While its report, submitted in March 2015 tackled various vital issues such as election finance, regulation of political parties and intra-party democracy, and criminalisation of politics, it was silent on turncoats.

The Election Commission has taken a view on amending the law to check the rampant practice of powerful candidates contesting from more than one constituency at a time as a byelection is necessitated if he or she wins from both seats and has to resign from one. A byelection involves avoidable expenditure and labour, the commission has opined.

The anti-defection law punishes MLAs /MPs for leaving one party for another and disqualifies them, but does not bar them from contesting from the same seat and in the same term.

The National Commission set up to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) has mentioned in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 91st Constitution Amendment Bill while looking at the anti-defection law, “The NCRWC is also of the view that a defector should be penalised for his action by debarring him from holding any public office as a minister or any other remunerative political post for at least the duration of the remaining term of the existing legislature or until, the next fresh elections whichever is earlier.…”

But will political parties, who encourage or engineer defections to form or save a government take a call on this? One can only hope.

From her perch in Lucknow, HT’s resident editor Sunita Aron highlights important issues related to Uttar Pradesh

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