Reverse migration: On the politics of defections

Political mobilisation based on opportunistic defection can only offer limited purchase

June 18, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 12:40 am IST

Leaders switching parties and parties recruiting turncoats are not unheard of in Indian politics. A shrinking party would lose leaders while an expanding party would gain them. The talent acquisition strategy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) goes far beyond such familiar opportunism. In the recent years of its growth, it has built entire electoral strategies around leaders who crossed over from other parties. In Assam, its two consecutive Chief Ministers were in other parties not long ago; the current incumbent, Himanta Biswa Sarma , was not just any other Congress leader but a decision maker in the 15-year-long tenure of the party until 2016. Perhaps encouraged by the success in Assam, the party launched a similar strategy in West Bengal. It recruited dozens of leaders from other parties , particularly the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Not surprisingly, a good number of the leaders who crossed over to the BJP due to its lure or fear of the central agencies investigating scams and irregularities, are now flocking back to the TMC. Even as it continued to induct defectors from the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi this week, Mukul Roy left the BJP to return to the comfort of his old party, the TMC. Several others may follow suit. The TMC itself is a haven of defectors — dozens of leaders from the Congress and the Left Front have joined it since it won power in 2011. The political flux is unlikely to end soon.

The BJP has achieved significant growth in West Bengal in a short span of time. Had it relied more on leaders who had organically grown with it, the BJP would not have been in such an embarrassing position. Its hurry to be in power even in places where it has not established itself as a viable party is harming it. It is also coarsening the political debate and harming democracy itself, simultaneously. If the reverse migration of TMC leaders is rattling the BJP in West Bengal, in Kerala, another State where it tried to punch far above its weight, it is caught in a vortex of corruption allegations . Allegations range from bringing money from Karnataka for the campaign in Kerala through hawala routes and bribing an ally. The leaders that the BJP recruited from other parties in Kerala have added up to nothing. All this should point the BJP towards the virtue of patience, which is not unfamiliar to it. Replacing grassroots activism with large-scale defections from other parties can only win short-term rewards, if at all. In the long run, such trends undermine the parties, the persons involved and the democratic processes. The BJP must learn to be more modest in victory and gracious in defeat. Tactics too focused on the short term can only harm the larger interest over the longer term.

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