Analysis | Why NCP-Cong should worry about Maharashtra’s season of defections
The season of defections has started in Maharashtra, two months ahead of the assembly polls. On Tuesday, four opposition legislators including three from the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) and one from the Congress joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at a function organised by the party in Mumbai.
This is being seen as one of the first such functions that the BJP might end up hosting over the next two months as the inflow from the opposition camp continues until the eve of the polls.
Water resources minister Girish Mahajan glibly told reporters a day earlier that as many as fifty opposition legislators were in talks with the BJP. If Mahajan, a close aide of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is to be taken seriously, it would be mean that two-thirds of the 83 Congress-NCP MLAs want out.
Even if this is an exaggeration, the fact is that a majority of opposition MLAs increasingly view the 2019 state polls as a one-sided fight stacked heavily in favour of the saffron parties.
And, in a re-run of the defections ahead of the Modi wave in 2014 polls, many opposition legislators appear to prefer to migrate to the ruling parties to cling to power.
But the defections, run down by the opposition as opportunistic movements, also point to its state in Maharashtra.
Shivendra Raje Bhosale, a three- term NCP legislator from Satara who switched sides on Wednesday, said the Congress and the NCP had clearly “lost the plot”.
“It is clear already that they are unlikely to come to power in the state. In such a scenario, if I want to keep promises to my people and do development in my constituency, I am better placed with the BJP,’’ said Shivendra Raje Bhosale, a descendent of the Maratha warrior king Shivaji’s family, said.
Over the last few weeks, the NCP has lost five of its legislators, its Mumbai city chief and women’s wing chief to BJP-Sena.
The Congress is expected to lose at least another five to six MLAs in the coming days.
This exodus has its roots in the Congress-NCP coalition’s failure to play the role of aggressive and credible opposition in the last five years.
It is also a result of leadership crisis in both parties. And, in the case of NCP, it is also linked to Pawar’s indecisiveness and continued flirtation with the BJP that left his leaders confused for much of the last five years.
The ruling parties don’t get a clean chit in the ongoing defection saga.
Defections mostly are a two-way street with the BJP-Sena combine looking at picking the most winnable candidates in areas they are weak to increase their tally this election.
The saffron parties are looking at a target of 220-plus seats out of a total 288 seats in the state assembly. This ambitious target is not possible without poaching on established leadership of the Opposition.
“BJP is not a dharmashala. You can’t just get up and join our party. We will assess good leaders, their work and their grassroots connect before they are inducted. But, strong and experienced leaders will be welcomed,” said Fadnavis.
The NCP’s losses have prompted Sharad Pawar to cry foul and complain that ruling parties are using their power and even government agencies to coerce opposition MLAs to join their ranks.
But Pawar should know how the defection dynamics work.
The history of state’s turncoat politics is closely linked to the NCP chief. He split the Congress in 1978 to form Congress (S) and wrest power in the state. In 1999, he again split the Congress to form NCP.
Within months of setting up NCP and contesting polls separately, Pawar joined hands with Congress to form the government. The party leaders he poached from parties like Congress and opposition, Shiv Sena, including former NCP ministers Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, Madhukar Pichad or Ganesh Naik (former Sena leader and NCP minister) – all established leaders in their constituencies - are doing what they know best. They are moving on to greener pastures to continue staying in power.