As national election results loom, India’s political parties are resorting to extreme measures to prevent candidates from defecting

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This is, apparently, precisely where their political party, the Indian National Congress, wanted them.

As several states prepare to announce election results and the formation of new state governments on Thursday, India is once again witnessing a peculiar phenomenon that occurred immediately after several consecutive elections: the isolation of politicians to prevent other parties from courting them and causing last-minute defections.

Over the past five years, kidnappings at palm-fringed resorts, Mumbai’s five-star hotels and hilltop lodges have become increasingly common, to the point that the practice has been branded “resort politics” in Indian media. The tactic has often been associated with the Congress Party, the once-dominant party of Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi which has seen its grip on Indian politics – and its own errant members – loosen in recent years.

Political observers say the phenomenon points to a deeper problem: the frequency and ease with which Indian elected officials swap parties in exchange for political appointments, sometimes just days after campaigning on a platform and winning a race. .

“Accepting the outcome of an election is a hallmark of a healthy democracy, but trying to alter the results through defections is a serious violation that has become normalized in Indian elections,” said political science professor Gilles Verniers. at Ashoka University. Verniers said that by trying to woo defectors this week, political parties can prevent their rivals from winning enough seats to form a government, “thereby betraying the voters’ mandate.”

The most populous democracy in the world has a long history with mobile legislators. The most famous case was Gaya Lal, a Haryana politician who switched parties three times in the space of two weeks in 1967. Lal’s maneuvers spawned the popular Hindi saying “Aaya Ram gaya Ram” – ” Ram came, Ram went” – to describe the flip-flops and haggling so frequently seen in Indian legislatures.

In 1985, India, under a Congress government, passed an “anti-defection law” to discourage lawmakers from jumping ship, but it proved largely ineffective.

In the modern era, say political pundits, the Congress party began to take the issue seriously in 2017 after a particularly humiliating defeat in the Goa state elections. The party had won 17 seats, more than the 13 of the Bharatiya Janata party. Neither party had enough to claim a majority in the 40-seat state assembly, but the BJP pulled off a coup in the following days by overthrowing rival party lawmakers and forming a government. One of the Congress defectors became Health Minister of Goa under the BJP. Another defector was eventually rewarded with the post of deputy chief minister, the state’s No. 2 role.

Since then, political parties have gone to great lengths to closely monitor their legislators. During a political standoff in the state of Karnataka in 2019, a dozen lawmakers were airlifted to the glitzy Sofitel hotel in Mumbai, while others were sent to hillside villas with swimming pools. When a fight erupted for control of Madhya Pradesh in 2020, the BJP locked down its lawmakers in a fancy hotel near Delhi airport, while the Congress party flew its assembly members to the city tourist of Jaipur. By the time the dust settled, the Congress party had ceded control of Madhya Pradesh to the BJP.

According to a 2001 analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a non-partisan group of Indian scholars, 433 out of a total of nearly 5,000 national and state legislators switched parties between 2016 and 2020, of whom 170 did. defection from the Congress party. Control of five state governments changed hands during this period due to defections, according to the report.

Indian commentators have increasingly expressed concern about this trend and what it means for their country’s political system.

“For today’s politicians, power is the essence of life. Ideology, political commitment and loyalty are variables,” wrote P. Raman, a veteran political journalist in New Delhi, in an Indian Express op-ed on Wednesday. “It sounds more like corporate executives looking for better career options. It is purely transactional.

As elections approach this year, political parties have prepared countermeasures. The Aam Aadmi party required its candidates to sign legal affidavits guaranteeing their loyalty. The Congress party in Goa escorted its candidates to a Hindu temple, a mosque and a church so that they could swear, in the presence of their respective gods, that they would not leave the ship. The party posted the photos on Twitter with the hashtag #PledgeOfLoyalty.

More bizarre scenes unfolded on Wednesday. Indian television crews are flocking to Goa with less than 24 hours before the results of the hotly contested election are announced. Some media reported that the opposition Aam Aadmi party had entrenched its candidates in several secret locations. Speaking from his garden, the local BJP leader confidently told reporters that the ruling party would win and “did not need to resort to resort politics”.

The Congress party, meanwhile, struggled to protect its candidates while maintaining a veneer of normality. Party spokespersons said no one was forced to stay at the station against their will. A senior party official came out of the resort to insist the men inside were simply having lunch. Another official, former Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, told reporters that politicians were in town to celebrate his birthday.

Speaking to NDTV under swaying palms outside the compound, Kamat said he would have accommodated his colleagues, but “my house was too small”.

Kamat toed the party line for several minutes, coolly deflecting questions from the reporter as she discussed her birthday, until she asked if the Congress party was worried about a repeat of 2017, when the BJP poached congressional politicians right under their noses.

“Last time was a murder on democracy,” he replied, his voice filled with anger. “You have to learn to respect people. If you don’t respect the mandate of the people, then there is no democracy.

Anant Gupta contributed to this report.

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