Assembly elections 2017: The bitter truth Goans and Manipuris are coming to terms with
Unless ethical behaviour is rewarded by voters, the temptation to make or break governments by switching sides will always be there.
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So, the BJP is set to form the government in Manipur and Goa, adding two more states to its kitty. In both states the pattern is disturbingly similar: a hung Assembly where the Congress is the single largest party but just short of a majority, the BJP is a relatively distant second (but with a higher vote share), and smaller parties hold the key to government formation.
In both states, the governors are elderly BJP leaders enjoying the sinecure of a Raj Bhavan, and in both states, frankly, the BJP has moved faster and with greater desire than the Congress to capture power.
In a tweet I described the speed with which the BJP moved as a sign of the party's "hunger" for power. It's a "dil maange more" avaricious mindset that has led the BJP to try and gobble up one state government after another. When I tweeted this, I was accused by a Congress spokesperson of justifying "horse-trading" and the failure of the governor to invite the single largest party to form a government. Wrong I say on both counts.
I wasn't justifying horse-trading at all or making it seem virtuous: the fact is, in small state Assemblies in particular, "jod-tod" is a dark but inescapable part of the political landscape. The Congress has done it in the past, now the BJP is just as adroit at playing the "Aya Ram, Gaya Ram" game (or in Goa in the past described as "aya D'souza, gaya D'souza!").
Unless the political culture changes and ethical behaviour is rewarded by voters, the temptation will always be there to make or break governments by switching sides. Moreover, there is nothing in the Constitution that mandates that only the single largest party must be invited to form a government; the principle now very clearly is to invite the party which can offer the possibility of a "stable" government.
Truth is, in both states, the smaller parties and independents have chosen the BJP over the Congress, largely because a Narendra Modi-led BJP is a more viable political brand across the country. Truth also is that the ruling party at the Centre has a greater chance to woo smaller parties with various inducements. Why should a four-MLA Naga party, for example, side with a three-time Congress chief minister like Ibobi Singh who they accuse of marginalising them when they could easily cut a deal with the Centre?That BJP has agreed to send back its Union defence minister for government formation is a sign of its willingness to go the extra mile.
Ditto with the smaller parties and independents in Goa. Truth again is, money power does play a major role in such dealings and the BJP is arguably the most cash-rich party in the country at the moment much like the Congress was in its pomp.
My own belief therefore is that both the major parties should get off their moral perch. The BJP can no longer call itself a party with a difference. It has openly encouraged defections in Uttarakhand from the Congress, it has swallowed up the Congress in Arunachal and now threatens to do the same in Manipur. In Goa too, it has pushed to form a government even after its sitting chief minister and several ministers were defeated.
That it has agreed to "sacrifice" and send back its Union defence minister for government formation is a sign of its willingness to go the extra mile, and perhaps even its desperation not to lose out in the power game. The "saam daam" rajneeti is now just as much a part of the BJP's DNA as it has been of the Congress in the past.
Let not Mr Modi or Amit Shah kid us that the BJP is pure like "Maa Ganga": the pollution of power has affected it too. At the same time, politics is not an "ashram" for saints: the relentless pursuit of power is at the core of politics. Morality is for TV studio discussions, not for the real world of rajneeti.
While the BJP ponders over its moral corrosion, the Congress needs to take a hard look at another stark fact: the kingmakers in both states are, ironically, former Congressmen. In Manipur (also referred to as "Money-pur" in these unstable times), it is the BJP's north-east "hitman" Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma who has been organising the BJP's strategy along with party general secretary Ram Madhav, while in Goa, it is Vijai Sardesai, who has emerged as the key player.
Biswa Sarma was once the right hand man of Assam Congress strongman, Tarun Gogol, but left the party after he found himself being sidelined by the decision to promote Gogoi's son Gaurav, in another typical example of dynastical raj. Sarma has also claimed that he when he tried to meet Rahul Gandhi, he found that the Congress vice-president spent more time feeding biscuits to his pet dogs.
Sardesai claims to have been similarly "humiliated": ahead of the Goa elections, he wanted to align his Goa Forward party with the Congress but was reportedly kept waiting endlessly and eventually rejected. Both Sarma and Sardesai are talented gen-next leaders, both politicians with the political nous and drive that is sorely lacking in the Congress.
A Congress of an earlier era would have embraced a Sarma or a Sardesai as their future but a "high command"-led feudal party which is comatose has little space for those who wear their ambitions on their sleeve.
On the flip side, both Sarma and Sardesai can also be labelled as rank opportunists. Both were once firm critics of the BJP: Sardesai once described the BJP as a party of "narkasurs" and the man who will be his chief minister now, Manohar Parikkar was his prime target.
But that is now in the past and in politics, the past is always dispensable. To quote Chanakya: "there is some self interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interest. That is the bitter truth."
It's a truth Goans and Manipuris are coming to terms with.
(This article first appeared on the writer's blog.)