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From ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ to ‘Operation Lotus’

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How the meaning and nature of defections have changed over time

I began covering national politics from 1978 when the Morarji Desai-led Janata Party government was in power. Since then I have been witness to innumerable splits and unifications of political parties. The infamous political horse trading (‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’) of Haryana in 1967 was a cultural shock to the Indian polity. It was popular angst that gave birth to the anti-defection law of 1985.

Why is there collective outrage missing today when we have more en bloc defections? In recent years, political defections have acquired new meanings and a new definition. It is now a multicrore business beyond the reach of the old ‘Raos’ and ‘Lals’ of Haryana. No State head, however resourceful, can afford to execute today’s well-orchestrated inter-State operations.

A second less noticed feature of this decade’s political defections is that they are all planned and executed with precision, with the consent and expertise of the central leadership, often under code names like ‘Operation Lotus’. Centre-State coordination is key to their success. Profiles of the vulnerable ‘horses’ to be traded are prepared, for which enforcement agencies work in tandem.

The third is the ideological veneer attached to modern-day defections. It is all part of the ruling party’s agenda to attain its cherished dream of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’.

All this has a more disturbing side effect. The official patronage has rendered engineering defection morally acceptable to the polity. In earlier days, each power grab evoked public ire. All-party meetings were called to discuss the outrage. In the contemporary narrative, intimidating MLAs with raids, offering to withdraw cases against them and forcefully confining them in hotels has become accepted democratic process.

The whole dictionary and grammar of defection has also changed. Words like ‘defectors’, ‘Aaya Rams’, ‘horse trading’, ‘turncoats’ and ‘floor-crossing’ have disappeared from sections of the mainstream media. Instead, we have softer expressions like ‘win over’, ‘persuasion’, and ‘switching loyalty’. It was left to the Supreme Court to describe Ajit Pawar’s temporary defection to the BJP in Maharashtra as ‘horse trading’. Sections of the contemporary media even called the operation ‘astute’, ‘skilful’, and ‘deft’. In earlier times, MLAs were herded to farm houses and guest houses. Now they are taken to resorts and five-star hotels. Editors back then asked us to go to the encampments and unravel murky deals. We reported the fatigue setting in among the guarded herd. Some did blow-by-blow accounts.

But not now. Look at the burlesque that played out in the dark corridors of power in Mumbai. After all the media accounts and endless panel discussions, we are left with more questions than answers about the truth. Who scripted ‘Operation Lotus’? Was it done without the knowledge of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and the BJP’s top two leaders? Is Amit Shah so naive as to believe Ajit Pawar’s claim of support from 51 MLAs and go ahead with the plot? What was the BJP chief’s trusted aide Bhupender Yadav doing in Mumbai before the deal was struck on November 22? In those good old days, we were never allowed to let such nagging questions go unanswered.

P. Raman is a political analyst and author

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 6:20:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/from-aaya-ram-gaya-ram-to-operation-lotus/article30192683.ece

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