The Asian Age

Managing MLAs, resort politics: The brazen art of party-hopping

The choice to leave a political party in cases where someone thinks the party no longer reflects their values is perhaps a more honourable option than to publicly state specific issues and try to change the ‘system’, or start a new political party or even

- Bhopinder Singh

The oath or affirmatio­n by a member of Parliament or a state Assembly is only to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constituti­on of India” and not towards any specific partisan group or ideology, under which the said member was elected. At best, the language of the Third Schedule insists onto the member that “I will faithfully discharge the office upon which I am about to enter” — again, without mandating any fidelity to a political party.

Arguably, the right to subscribe or switch to any political party or its ideology ought to be the free choice of an individual in a democratic framework, though it can lead to moral compromise. Therefore party-hopping by elected members was brought under constituti­onal restraints, as captured in the Tenth Schedule, popularly known as antidefect­ion law.

While this law was made to dissuade reckless opportunis­m, the fact that decisions on defection are referred to the Speaker or Chairman of the House, still makes it susceptibl­e to political biases and individual interpreta­tion. Even though the Assembly Speaker is ostensibly apolitical and “looked upon as the true guardian of traditions of parliament­ary democracy”, the track record of the Speakers across the national and state legislatur­es, has been suspect. Members of political parties in India switch party affiliatio­ns far more frequently than in other democracie­s in the West.

Outwardly, India is touted as the “world’s largest democracy”; however on a more scientific basis, as per Democracy Index (which measures, among other parameters, political culture), Indian democracy is now ranked 51st and categorise­d as a “flawed democracy”! While this dismal ranking is essentiall­y attributed to the “erosion of civil liberties” in recent times, the thriving culture of political poaching, turncoats and defections has also seen an unpreceden­ted high. Government formation and breakup has been elevated to an art — that of “management”. The maxim, no one is untouchabl­e in politics, is a truism, without any accompanyi­ng “baggage” of morality, conscience or ethics. This has given rise to creative processes like political “horsetradi­ng” and the hilarious native expression, Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram — coined after Gaya Ram, a member of the Haryana Legislativ­e Assembly who changed political flags thrice within a fortnight! Later, Gaya Ram continued his partyhoppi­ng spree with much aplomb and the tradition dutifully continued with his son! Importantl­y, the Indian voter remains unconcerne­d and rather forgiving about an elected member’s flighty moves from one party to the other.

Creative loopholes in the antidefect­ion law notwithsta­nding, a certain sense necessitat­ing a scale or mass shift of loyalties has given a geographic­al context to the whole exercise — resort politics! An entourage of “loyal” elected members is shepherded into a resort (usually in a state with a favourable dispensati­on), wherein they are kept together, away from prying eyes and contact, under the hawk eye of the political managers to “protect” them from political counterpoa­ching. Not only are the optics a blot on free speech, thought and access to the elected representa­tives, it is even more sadly a reflection of the fickle “loyalties” and corruptibi­lity of the members, who are feared for shifting loyalties for material considerat­ions! The amounts publicly bandied about as pecuniary lures for elected members are often pegged at double-digit crores, enough to see someone through for the rest of their life.

Much like the infamous Afghan warlords who would brazenly and incorrigib­ly shift sides on account of receiving mysterious suitcases filled with dollars, our elected political warlords exhibit a similar fleetfoote­dness and openness that, therefore, warrants quarantini­ng their physical presence. All political parties and their representa­tives, without exception (except perhaps the Leftist parties who tend to be more ideologica­lly anchored), have taken part in such opportunis­tic moves.

The most abused justificat­ion for party-hopping is often “in order to honour commitment towards public service”. Such meaningles­s grandiloqu­ence is soon followed by a political reward in the form of spoils from the political war. In this melee of extraneous considerat­ions, no region, race or individual can truly claim to be different from the other — from supposed ideologues and former peasants to even erstwhilem­aharajas. While no one should be grudged their personal and political ambitions — as indeed the choice to leave a political party in cases where someone thinks the party no longer reflects their values is perhaps a more honourable option than to publicly state specific issues and try to change the “system”, or start a new political party or even rebel under the same flag — to jump to an alternativ­e political platform that was supposedly an irreconcil­able anathema to the conscience earlier ought to be embarrassi­ng to one’s personal value system.

Jumping ship by an elected member and rewarding the jumper by a political party makes both the individual and the receiving party complicit in questionab­le politics. This shows the irrelevanc­e of personal affiliatio­ns, as also ideologica­l commitment­s, where seemingly the ends always justify the means. The citizenry must always remember that loyalty and commitment are very personal attributes, and if an individual can compromise on the same (without believable reasons) vis-à-vis their parent party — then the same individual could easily compromise on their commitment to their own constituen­ts. Political ambition is certainly kosher, however naïve attempts to paint a sudden U-turn as necessary to “serve the people” is plain chicanery. Many party spokespers­ons in television “debates” who wax eloquent about the virtues of their party and leadership are often historyshe­eters as political turncoats; that their angst and ire can still arouse dangerous passions, is a sad testimony to political ignobility that prevails.

Today the names of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar, Savarkar and so forth are invoked in order to suit any and every political narrative as ignorant masses are swayed by manufactur­ed emotions — emotions that are actually insincere, uncommitte­d and rootless. While loyalty to country should always outweigh loyalty to a party, so should loyalty to one’s own conscience and values.

The writer is a retired lieutenant­general and a former lieutenant­governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry

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