Dharmendra Jore: All strings attached, turncoats roll the dice

Elections and the love for power have always brought out the true shades of politicians, and the upcoming BMC polls are unlikely to see anything different

This columnist recalls an interesting tale that a senior political leader had narrated to him.

When in New Delhi for a meeting, the leader came across a young fellow at a national party’s office. Keeping a straight face, the youngster introduced himself to the senior leader: “Sir, you may not know me, but you must be aware of a leader who was known by a famous name of ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ from a state neighbouring New Delhi. I’m from his family. I’m in your party now.” The leader said he couldn’t suppress a mischievous grin when the young man drove his point home without any inhibition. “I couldn’t resist myself and asked him how long he would remain in our party,” the senior leader told this columnist, letting out a hearty chuckle.

Turn the coat
You reject them, but you can’t ignore them. ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’, aka turncoats, remain an eternal reality in Indian politics. Be it general elections, civic polls or village panchayat polls, you’ll find them everywhere. Mumbai wasn’t an exception as it saw turncoats making new parties their respective homes at the last minute.

Prospective promising candidates and disgruntled leaders are always on the poachers’ radar. And for turncoats, remaining in power anyhow is never a second priority. They compromise morality and ideology to achieve their goals.

Though the ‘storyteller’ did not name any specific state to which the veteran turncoat belonged, one such state that shares boundary with Delhi is Haryana. The state is credited with giving the country that name for turncoats when an MLA changed parties three times in a day in 1967. Indian states continue to have intricate stories of elected representatives getting wooed by power, money and position even as anti-defection law has made ‘incoming and outgoing’ not so easy, especially when it is about forming a government or stabilising a government under threat.

The Maharashtra government has also proposed tougher norms in anti-defection law in civic bodies that would disqualify a corporator or councillor for six years for switching loyalties. This means a tough time for turncoats to act as per their whims and fancies when they are sitting representatives.

Power plays
However, no law can stop individuals from changing sides ahead of polls as they consider factors and offers from interested parties. Deals that come through between them depend on an individual’s winning ability.

Some do not believe in party crutches and contest as independents, and take a final call after winning. Independents become a much-in-demand commodity in a fractured mandate.

Maharashtra has had minority governments that depended largely on the support extended by independents.

Some of these mighty independents had joined the ruling parties later in the next polls to become a force to reckon with.

In Mumbai, we have seen now-separated ruling partners Shiv Sena and BJP poaching in each other’s camps. They have electoral merit and are in power, and hence, could afford to have lucrative baits on offer that even had a couple of citizens’ representatives (independents) falling prey.

The situation is no different elsewhere in Maharashtra, where power-hungry parties have not given a thought to credentials of the people inducted in their folds. The BJP, which is pushing an agenda of anti-corruption, is accused of taking criminals from other outfits as its official candidates. And the irony is that the parties that the BJP had accused of corruption are now levelling such serious allegations against the rulers.

Repetitive history
Electoral history, however, shows that a significant number of turncoats do get elected. The 2014 Assembly polls stand testimony to this observation.

Parties that were in power for 15 years proudly say that these turncoats still have a strong bonding with their previous political bosses though they have been elected as BJP or Sena candidates, and they could switch sides again, sensing which way the wind flows ahead of the 2019 polls.

Why does this happen time and again? When one tries to analyse the phenomenon, one may find that it may have something to do with personal equations that turncoats share with the vote bank they have been cultivating over many years. Another reason that may come across shows the efforts of sensible voters falling short, either because they do not go out to vote or they find themselves in the minority when it comes to questioning morality and loyalty of turncoats through the ballot.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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