‘Operation Lotus’ candidates saw more victories in 2019 than during 2008-11

In bypolls this year, defectors won 12 of the 15 seats taking the success rate to 80%

December 12, 2019 10:50 pm | Updated 10:50 pm IST - Bengaluru

The Bharatiya Janata Party that evolved a strategy that has come to be termed ‘Operation Lotus’ to shore up numbers of a minority government back in 2008-2011, has evidently improved its effectiveness as another such operation was put in place in 2019, leading to the recent bypolls.

This time, the BJP toppled a coalition government, formed an alternative government, and gained a majority using this method, which involves influencing MLAs in the Opposition to resign and then contest on BJP ticket in the bypolls. Between 2008 and 2019, the success rate of re-election of defectors has improved.

Between 2008 and 2011, 14 MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) defected to the ruling BJP in four batches. Of them, only nine were re-elected in the subsequent bypolls — a success rate of around 64%. However, in the bypolls of 2019, winning 12 of the 15 seats, the success rate is 80%. This was even though, unlike now, the defectors contested bypolls as Ministers between 2008 and 2011. Both times, while BJP campaigned in the name of “stability”, the Opposition asked voters to “punish defectors”.

In 2008, BJP won 110 seats and formed the government with the support of five Independents. “Operation Lotus was not about the survival of the government then, but to make the government more secure,” said a senior BJP leader, Minister in both governments, admitting that people perhaps saw it more strongly as a morally reprehensible act then. “This time, the BJP’s narrative was that the Congress-JD(S) coalition had subverted the mandate in the 2018 Assembly polls and BJP was wronged. Moreover, the survival of the government depended on the bypoll results. People seem to have voted BJP to ensure a stable government, after the experience of an unstable coalition government for just over a year,” said Sandeep Shastri, political scientist and national coordinator of Lokniti Network, a research group on comparative democracy. Dr. Shastri said the Opposition failed to make the “immorality of defections” a poll plank.

Voters’ perception

A senior BJP strategist also talked about changes in the demands and perceptions of voters. “Now, people are interested in delivery of services, development in their constituencies, and accessibility of their representatives. People also vote more readily to the ruling party, pushing moral issues to a secondary position,” said a BJP leader. Key to the success of this modus operandi is to carefully select defectors who can win on their individual capacity, rather than in the name of the party.

Between 2008 and 2011, defectors came over to the BJP in batches. In the first batch, the BJP got seven defectors of whom, five won in December 2008, taking BJP tally to 115, a comfortable majority. However, BJP got seven more defectors over the next two years.

This time too, post-bypolls, BJP sources claim that there were a handful of JD(S) and Congress MLAs in touch with the party and willing to defect.

BJP State president Nalin Kumar Kateel has told mediapersons that while the party would not resort of ‘Operation Lotus’, the Opposition MLAs were welcome to join the BJP. “We have crossed the majority mark and need not depend on anyone for stability. But, we are keen on strengthening our party’s base across the State,” he said, indicating that the party was open to let in more defectors.

While ‘Operation Lotus’ ensured a comfortable majority for the BJP government in its earlier tenure in 2008, it also sowed the seeds of discontent within the party, eventually leading to a crisis in 2010. Eighteen MLAs, including five Independents, withdrew support to Mr. Yediyurappa. Even today, balancing the new entrants into the party with party loyalists is a big challenge before the Chief Minister.

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