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Auction Of MLAs

Auction Of MLAs

Dark humour never had it so good. One such joke that has been making the rounds is that if Amit Shah was in London, he would have bought the New Zealand team, made it part of the Indian team and India would have found a place in the Finals of the World Cricket Cup. Another is that if an electronic voting machine-like device was used to calculate the last overs and runs, India would not have lost to New Zealand.

Why are such jokes gaining currency in the country? It is because of the kind of political developments that have been happening in the country since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014. When the last elections were held in Goa, it was the Congress with 17 seats which emerged as the single largest party.

It was a clear verdict against the Bharatiya Janata Party which had been ruling the State. In the normal course, the Congress would have been allowed to form a government but overnight then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was asked to resign, go to Goa and be sworn in as Chief Minister. It was clearly against the mandate of the people.

The BJP patted itself on the back for the brilliance of its move that stunned the Congress. With the support of some small parties and Independents, the BJP has been enjoying power in the state. Now, all of a sudden, a majority of the Congress legislators have joined the BJP leaving the voters bewildered.

Nobody in his right senses would believe that the Congressmen, many of whom are Catholics, had a sudden realisation that one-party rule was the ideal for the state. They would certainly have bargained with the BJP and got a decent price for suddenly becoming BJP MLAs, instead of Congress MLAs. The ruling party believes in the dictum: You name a Congressman and I will tell the price for him.

In Gujarat, the Congress had enough strength to get a Congressman elected to the Rajya Sabha. The Congress show was spoiled when two MLAs were asked to resign from the party. The BJP is desperate to get a majority in the Rajya Sabha so that it can pass laws without scrutiny. Once the next biennial elections to the Upper House of Parliament are held, the BJP would get a majority there.

However, the party is not in a mood to wait. It has been doing everything possible to create an artificial majority. It was under this plan, that a wholesale defection of Rajya Sabha members from the Telugu Desam Party was organised. Chandrababu Naidu was abroad when his sheep switched over to the BJP camp. It is a different matter that he had himself organised such a coup when late NT Rama Rao had gone abroad.

Why did so many Congress MLAs join the BJP together in Goa? The reason can be laid at the doorstep of the Congress party itself. In the 1984 Lok Sabha elections held in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi swept the polls. It won an unprecedented victory, leaving the BJP to be called a scooter party as it won only two seats. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was defeated.

A greenhorn in politics, the Indian Airlines pilot that Rajiv Gandhi was, feared his own numbers. What if a political rival is able to win the confidence of the party MPs and drive them out of the Congress, he thought. The first thing the new Prime Minister did was to bring forward a law under which if a party MP or MLA defected to another party, he would lose his seat in the House.

The anti-defection law he enacted had a clause whereby if one-third of the members of a party defected to another party in one go, it would be considered a split and the members would not lose their membership of the House. That is precisely why so many Congress MLAs together quit the Congress to join the BJP in Goa.

Earlier, such wholesale defections were seen in other states like Arunachal Pradesh. What happened in Goa is a textbook split. In Karnataka, another stratagem is being employed. Congress legislators are encouraged to resign to deprive the government of a majority. If HD Kumaraswamy is able to cling on to power, it is only because the Speaker has been with him.

The truth of the matter is that the Congress-Janata Dal (S) government has lost its majority with the resignation of 13 Congress MLAs and three JD(S) legislators. Two Independents who had been supporting the government have also withdrawn their support. They are now aligned with the BJP. At the time of writing, it is resort politics in Karnataka with the BJP herding their MLAs to a resort so that there is no attempt of poaching.

The Operation Lotus is certain to win if the goings-on in the state are anything to go by. If the BJP is able to capture Karnataka, it would mark another dark chapter in the history of the state. It would have its impact on other Congress-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

In MP, the Congress does not enjoy a majority of its own. It needs the support of some Independents to continue in power. It is not difficult for the BJP to adopt the strategy employed in Karnataka to destabilise the Kamal Nath government. All it needs to do is to buy some Congress MLAs and deprive the government of the razor-thin majority on which it runs.

Rajasthan is a different kettle of fish. The Congress leaders like Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot have been busy stabbing each other, rather than in facing the challenge posed by the BJP. Small wonder that the government persists with its case against the victims of the cow vigilantes than against those who killed a Muslim dairy owner. Given the state of disunity in the Congress, it would not be difficult for Amit Shah and Company to destabilise the Rajasthan government. 

The BJP has enough money power to purchase MLAs and MPs. A recent report said that 95 per cent of the electoral bonds issued in the country benefited the BJP. The entire Opposition, including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, received only 5 per cent of the bonds.

Small wonder that the BJP is flush with money. Its state-of-the-art office complex in Delhi is a reflection of the kind of money that it has been wallowing in. Only the Communist Parties in countries like Mongolia, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia had such offices when they were allies of the now-defunct Soviet Union or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

No, this is not a new trend. Until the BJP came to power at the Centre, the Congress used to be the greatest beneficiary of corporate donations. In fact, it used to use the money power to ride roughshod over the Opposition. It is, perhaps, poetic justice that the BJP is able to turn the tables against the Congress. Money power certainly played a major role in the 2019 elections as well.

Now, why is the BJP in a hurry to have a majority in the Rajya Sabha? If the first Bill that Rajiv Gandhi brought forward was to keep the Congress MPs in one flock, the first Bill that the re-elected Narendra Modi government brought forward was to ban triple talaq. The Bill was passed by the previous Lok Sabha but it was not cleared by the Rajya Sabha.

The law is an exercise in futility. The Supreme Court had already declared that no Muslim woman became divorced after her husband said talaq three times. In other words, such an utterance by the husband had no legal sanctity. Divorce is a civil act, not a criminal one. Divorce happens in all societies. There are courts to settle such cases. A couple decides to split for various reasons.

Narendra Modi had his own reasons to separate from his wife. He also had his own reasons not to seek a divorce from her. That is his own personal matter. It would not be fair to initiate criminal proceedings against him because he could be accused of deserting his legally-wedded wife. Similarly, the man who says talaq three times is a stupid person because his wife can claim to have conjugal rights till he obtains a divorce in a legal manner.

The law seeks to put the stupid man in jail for three years. How will the fellow in jail pay alimony to his wife? There is no data of Muslim woman triple-talaqed like the Hindu or Christian or Sikh or Parsi or Jain women who are not looked after well by their husbands. Those who desert their wives in the so-called service of the nation or squander their money on liquor while their wives have to do menial jobs to make a living are equally guilty.

However, the government does not have the courage to initiate laws against them while it was double-quick with the triple talaq law. The BJP wants those who slaughter cows to be punished but not those who leave them on the roads. The media did not cover a recent law cleared by Parliament. Every corporate earning a certain profit has to set apart 2 per cent of its profits for what is known as corporate social responsibility.

The companies are free to spend the money on projects like education, women empowerment, sanitation etc. When Narendra Modi hit upon the idea of making Mahatma Gandhi the symbol of toilets, the companies found it necessary to earmark its CSR funds to set up toilets. When Yogi Adityanath thought to making Kumbh Mela a greater affair, he appealed to the companies to contribute their CSR funds for organising the Mela.

Now the government wants at least 25 per cent of all the CSR funds to protect and preserve archaeological sites falling prey to natural and human vagaries. The money which would have gone to feed children, educate students and empower women would now be diverted to archaeology. 

In all likelihood, the government would create a fund and ask the corporates to deposit their CSR funds in it. They will be free to deposit the whole CSR funds for it would free them from the bother of executing programmes and obtaining utilisation certificates from their NGO partners. 

The BJP has many an agenda the fulfilment of which requires a majority support in both Houses of Parliament. That is why it wants to cook up a majority by hook or by crook. All said and done, it is not proper to blame the BJP alone for the political shenanigans. The Congress is equally guilty. The party has been without a leader ever since Rahul Gandhi decided to quit the post of party chief.

It has not been able to find an interim president till a regular one is elected. Precious time has been wasted by trying to influence Gandhi to stay on as President. It is farcical that some party men thought of persuading Sonia Gandhi to step in as Congress President, though she is not in the pink of health. The party should have by now found a new leader.

Is it any wonder that the BJP finds the Congress at its vulnerable worst? If the party is able to purchase Congress MLAs, it is because it finds them purchasable. As Modi mentioned, no political party found it confident to mention secularism during the last election campaign. Even Rahul Gandhi found it convenient to visit temples during the campaign, than to condemn the politics of lynching. 

For the average voter, a Congress person is as good or as bad as a BJP person. When Haryana Chief Minister enacted the toughest anti-cow slaughter law, the man who embraced him in the House was Leader of Opposition and former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Did the Congress in Haryana benefit from that embrace? It did not get a single seat in the state.

When in public perception, the BJP and the Congress are two faces of the same coin, defections en masse do not not surprise anyone. It is a game of numbers in which money matters more than anything. Is it any surprise that Amit Shah plays the Pied Piper luring the Congressmen with money and power? 

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 15th July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 29)