The RSS tries to rec­on­cile the im­per­a­tives of Chanakyan­iti with its mo­ral reser­va­tions over de­fec­tions


The rul­ing party’s open­door pol­icy on po­lit­i­cal de­fec­tors stirs up a de­bate within the RSS

Back in 1981, when a BJP mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lor de­fected to the Congress and brought down the party num­bers in the Ra­jkot Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion, vet­eran BJP leader, the late Chi­man Shukla, went on a fast that lasted 19 days. So in­tense was the mo­ral pres­sure that the coun­cil­lor left the Congress and went into po­lit­i­cal ex­ile.

Later, in 1995, when BJP leader Shankarsin­h Vaghela and 47 of the 122 Gu­jarat BJP MLAs threatened to break the party in an act of rebellion against the then chief min­is­ter Keshub­hai Pa­tel and then state BJP or­gan­i­sa­tion sec­re­tary and now prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, it evoked hor­ror within the BJP lead­er­ship as well as the rank and file.

In the re­cent past, how­ever, the saf­fron party has shed all in­hi­bi­tions in em­brac­ing rebels from other par­ties. Just last week, 10 MLAs of the Sikkim Demo­cratic Front joined the BJP. Ear­lier, in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber 2016, al­most the en­tire Congress leg­is­la­ture lead­er­ship in Arunachal Pradesh and Ma­nipur had crossed over to the BJP. As a re­sult, the cur­rent BJP government­s in both states largely com­prise those who were orig­i­nally from the Congress and other par­ties, in­clud­ing Arunachal Chief Min­is­ter Pema Khandu and his Ma­nipur coun­ter­part Biren Singh.

The North­east’s saf­fron turn came when dis­il­lu­sioned Congress leader Hi­manta Biswa Sarma be­came re­be­lin-chief for the BJP on Au­gust 29, 2015. Ever since, Sarma, along with BJP gen­eral sec­re­tary Ram Mad­hav, has been in­stru­men­tal in es­tab­lish­ing the BJP foot­print in the North­east by us­ing his sig­nif­i­cant con­tacts and good­will to lure leg­is­la­tors from the Congress and other re­gional par­ties into join­ing the BJP.

With the 1985 anti-de­fec­tion law be­com­ing largely tooth­less, leg­is­la­tors have no qualms in shift­ing loy­alty to the party that best serves their

po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests. It was in 2016, the third year of the first Modi govern­ment, that there were wide­spread de­fec­tions to the party. Eight Congress MLAs from Ut­tarak­hand, along with for­mer chief min­is­ter Vi­jay Ku­mar Bahuguna, joined the party that year. They went on to be­come min­is­ters in the BJP govern­ment that came to power af­ter the 2017 assem­bly elec­tion.

De­fec­tions gath­ered steam at the start of 2019 in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the gen­eral elec­tion in May. And with the BJP win­ning a re­sound­ing man­date, the num­ber of peo­ple want­ing to hitch their wagon to the win­ning horse is only grow­ing. Es­pe­cially as the Congress looks like a sink­ing ship and the sphere of re­gional par­ties has con­sid­er­ably re­duced.


And the BJP isn’t com­plain­ing. The party lead­er­ship calls it ‘Chanakyan­iti’, or prag­matic pol­i­tics. As Sarma, the health and fi­nance min­is­ter

in As­sam, puts it, de­fec­tions have helped the party to ex­pand its foot­print and build pres­ence in ar­eas that have been po­lit­i­cally vir­gin ter­ri­tory, such as the North­east. In West Ben­gal, the de­fec­tion of Ma­mata aide Mukul Roy in Novem­ber 2017 marked the be­gin­ning of the process that led to the BJP’s im­pres­sive tally in West Ben­gal in the May gen­eral elec­tion. Large-scale de­fec­tions in Kar­nataka and Goa helped the BJP form government­s in the two states this July. Given the suc­cess of de­fec­tion pol­i­tics, it will not be sur­pris­ing if the BJP soon de­ploys the same strat­egy in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Even in the up­per house, where the saf­fron party lacks the num­bers, the BJP re­lied ef­fec­tively on rebel MPs to push through cru­cial leg­is­la­tion, as on triple ta­laq and Ar­ti­cle 370. And it doesn’t mat­ter who they are. Two of the four Tel­ugu De­sam Party Ra­jya Sabha MPs who de­fected to the BJP, both of them

busi­ness­men, are un­der the scan­ner of in­ves­ti­gat­ing agen­cies. S. Chaud­hary has an En­force­ment Direc­torate case pend­ing against him while C.R. Ramesh had his group firms raided by in­come tax au­thor­i­ties. Ramesh, in fact, played a key role in man­ag­ing the floor of the up­per House in the pas­sage of the triple ta­laq and Kash­mir bills.

De­fec­tions, says a source close to the BJP lead­er­ship, “are a po­lit­i­cal ne­ces­sity”. He thinks a com­plete ‘trans­for­ma­tion’ is needed if In­dia is to gain its right­ful place in the comity of na­tions. “And leg­isla­tive strength is nec­es­sary for this trans­for­ma­tion.” Adds an­other source: “We need strength in the Ra­jya Sabha at the ear­li­est. What­ever we are do­ing is part of a larger game plan and in the ab­so­lute na­tional in­ter­est.”

But is the en­try of out­siders in the in­ter­est of the party? Ac­cord­ing to Sarma, it is in keep­ing with party pres­i­dent Amit Shah’s goal of mak­ing BJP a pan-In­dia party. How­ever, mind­ful of fears re­gard­ing out­siders join­ing the party, the lo­cal RSS lead­er­ship is taken into con­fi­dence. As Sarma puts it, “Both the goals of the party and the due process for ad­mit­ting out­siders are in place. There is proper screen­ing be­fore a leader from an­other party is ad­mit­ted. Not all those who want to join the BJP are ad­mit­ted.”

When asked about out­siders be­ing wel­comed into the party in such large num­bers, Amit Shah had in an in­ter­view to in­dia to­day late last year said that no po­lit­i­cal party can sur­vive with­out in­duc­tion of fresh blood.


How­ever, de­spite the as­ser­tions of the party lead­er­ship, a sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of party work­ers drawn from the RSS and the larger Sangh Parivar are clearly un­com­fort­able with the BJP brand of de­fec­tion pol­i­tics. They think that larger mo­ral ob­jec­tives are be­ing sac­ri­ficed for short-term gains, deal­ing a blow to ‘value-based pol­i­tics’.

Says a for­mer ABVP leader, “Many im­ported lead­ers who have turned out to be use­ful for the party prove that the line be­tween what is po­lit­i­cally cor­rect and what is un­eth­i­cal gets blurred some­times. TDP MP C.R. Ramesh is a case in point. How­ever, there are many in­stances which show that the party has ad­mit­ted lead­ers from op­po­si­tion par­ties for no rea­son. Rape ac­cused MLA Kuldeep Sen­gar, for in­stance. He came from the Sa­ma­jwadi Party and has brought only shame to the party in the past two years.”

When SP Ra­jya Sabha MPs Neeraj Shekhar, San­jay Sinh and Satya­narayan Na­gar were in­ducted into the BJP, a UP-based RSS leader asked, “We have 300 MLAs in UP. Where was the need for tak­ing them in?”

The at­mos­phere build­ing up in the party might force even the con­science­keep­ers into the po­lit­i­cal race be­cause what was an ex­cep­tion is be­com­ing a norm for what was once a party with a dif­fer­ence. “This milavat (un­holy mix­ing) can have se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the cadre in the fu­ture,” says a top leader over­see­ing a na­tional so­cial ser­vice ac­tiv­ity of the RSS.

How­ever, while a sec­tion of the Parivar com­pletely de­cries de­fec­tion pol­i­tics, an­other set is more open to the idea if it serves a po­lit­i­cal con­tin­gency, as when the BJP needs num­bers to form a govern­ment and the ri­val party is play­ing the same game, like in Goa in 2017.

Says a source close to Arun Ku­mar, head of the na­tional pub­lic­ity wing of the RSS, “Some of our cadre do feel un­com­fort­able at the kind of de­fec­tion pol­i­tics they are see­ing, but we can’t over­look the fact that the ex­er­cise is be­ing car­ried out with a twin po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tive: weak­en­ing the op­po­si­tion and en­sur­ing the leg­isla­tive strength needed for en­act­ing the req­ui­site laws in na­tional in­ter­est.” The source also points out how the BJP did give tick­ets to ide­o­log­i­cally strong can­di­dates in the 2019 elec­tion de­spite the im­pres­sion that it is im­port­ing lead­ers from other par­ties. But where the party is weak, invit­ing lead­ers from other par­ties makes po­lit­i­cal sense.

Be­sides, many in the Parivar are will­ing to put up with de­fec­tion pol­i­tics as long as the larger RSS ob­jec­tives—uni­form civil code, ab­ro­ga­tion of Ar­ti­cle 370 and the Ram temple in Ay­o­d­hya—are be­ing served. As an RSS ‘purist’ puts it, “When they are de­liv­er­ing on our ide­o­log­i­cal agenda, how can we op­pose them on smaller things? If the end re­sult is good, why should we ob­ject to the path they are tak­ing to achieve it.” The end, af­ter all, jus­ti­fies the means. ■



AND THEN THERE WERE TEN BJP work­ing pres­i­dent J.P. Nadda with the Goa CM and rebel Congress MLAs in New Delhi

INTO THE FOLD Union home min­is­ter Amit Shah with Bai­jayant Jay Panda


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