Is Amit Shah's Idea of a 'Congress-Free India' One Where BJP is Full of Congress Leaders?

Across the country, the BJP has fought elections by giving tickets to rebel Congress leaders rather than its own party cadre.

New Delhi: With N. Biren Singh taking the oath as chief minister, the BJP formed a government for the first time in the northeastern state of Manipur. Biren was a cabinet minister in the state’s previous Congress-led government. He left the Congress to join the BJP in October last year.

In almost all his rallies, BJP president Amit Shah has reiterated the slogan of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, claiming that the party is going to rid the country of the Congress. But instead of a Congress-mukt, or free, India, the BJP seems to be aiming at a Congress-yukt India – one filled with Congress men and women. Most of the leaders the party rode to victory with in the recent elections were formerly Congress members. Manipur‘s Biren is only one example.

In Uttarakhand, Satpal Maharaj, his wife Amrita Rawat, former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, former assembly speaker Yashpal Arya, former minister Harak Singh Rawat, Subodh Uniyal, Pranav Singh, Kedar Singh Rawat, Pradeep Batra and Rekha Arya were all Congress leaders before joining the BJP recently.

Maharaj, Yashpal, Harak, Uniyal and Rekha have each found a place each in Uttarakhand’s recently formed nine-member cabinet. They have all once been strong Congress leaders in the state.

In Uttar Pradesh, long-time Congress leaders Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Amarpal Tyagi, Dhirendra Singh, Ravi Kishan and several others recently joined the BJP. Many of them contested the assembly elections on BJP tickets and won. Bahuguna Joshi has also been appointed a cabinet member.

In Goa, former Congress MLAs Vijay Pai Khot, Pravin Jayante and Pandurang Madkaikar contested the 2017 assembly polls on BJP tickets. The party faced internal opposition on the issue but it was ignored.

Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh taking oath. Credit: PTI

Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh taking oath. Credit: PTI

A classic example of this tend is, of course, Arunachal Pradesh. In the 2014 assembly polls, 42 of 60 legislative assembly members in the state were Congress leaders. Today, 47 of the MLAs are BJP leaders, most of whom were previously Congress politicians.

In September 2016, Pema Khandu left Congress and joined the Peoples Party of Arunachal Pradesh, which he left in December to ultimately join the BJP. Khandu is currently the chief minister of the state. His father, Dorjee Khandu, was formerly a Congress leader and chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh.

In Assam, the situation is no different. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Pallab Lochan Das, Jayant Malla Baruah, Piyush Hazarika, Rajen Borthakur, Abu Taher Bepari, Binanda Kumar Saikia, Bolin Chetia, Pradan Baruah and Kripanath Malla are all former Congress leaders who have joined the BJP. Of them, Sarma and Das are cabinet ministers in the BJP-led state government. After having served as MLA of the Congress for 15 years, Sarma played a key role in the BJP’s victory in the state. The party leadership has appointed him the convener of the newly constituted North-East Democratic Alliance.

Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, hordes of prominent Congress leaders, including Chaudhary Virendra Singh, Rao Inderjit Singh, Jagdambika Pal, D. Purandeswari and Krishna Tirath joined the BJP. Several of them have been appointed ministers now.

While the slogan has shifted from ‘the party with a difference’ to ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, the BJP seems to have little regard for its workers disillusioned by the current trend.

Recently, N. Govindacharya was quoted as saying, “Today, political parties have become gangs of power-hungry people. Party-switching is a part of this malicious culture”. It is important to quote Govindacharya here because he has been an ideologue for the BJP for a fairly long time.

The BJP is a cadre-based party and the Sangh parivar prepares leaders for it. Though the BJP claims to be the second-largest party in terms of membership, the fact that it had to borrow leaders from the Congress to register a win only exposes the inability of the RSS to produce a sufficient number of leaders to carry out the party’s plan towards making India ‘Congress-free’.

The worst affected by this trend are party workers, who feel cheated. They work hard for the party for long periods of time, but leaders from the opposition party come and take away the prize of chief ministerial or cabinet posts.

The BJP may have formed the government in several states, but its organisational fabric in those states has weakened because the party has handed top posts to leaders who were not associated with the organisation.

RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha, however, does not agree with this assessment. He says, “As a political party, you cannot be so puritan. Leaders from other parties come to us and express their faith in our ideology and our organisation. It is nothing new in politics. Even at the time of the Jan Sangh, several leaders from the Congress joined the party”.

Senior journalist Pradeep Singh says, “Any political party grows in two ways. The first is organic growth. The party spends 10-20 years preparing workers who become MLAs, MPs and hold other significant positions. Another is inorganic, which means the party lures leaders prepared by other parties. The party’s momentum remains unaffected. The elections are won on the back of those established leaders. It is a usual phenomenon in political parties across the world. Earlier, the Congress used a similar strategy to win elections. It was followed by the Janata Dal and Janata Party. The BJP is also taking the same path. Jagjivan Ram, who brought the Emergency Bill in parliament, later became deputy prime minister in the Janata government.”

Amit Shah with Rita Bahuguna Joshi. Credit: PTI

Amit Shah with Rita Bahuguna Joshi. Credit: PTI

Singh adds, “As far as the morale of workers is concerned, take the example of Manipur. For the past 15-20 years, BJP workers have failed to get a single candidate to win in the state. The workers find it better that the party is able to form government with politicians borrowed from other parties, rather than wait another 15 years to come to power. If it does not affect the party’s ideology or agenda, then they are fine with it.”

Senior journalist Neerja Chowdhury holds a similar opinion. “This is a strategy of the BJP. In places which are not its stronghold, it eyes winning over candidates from other parties including the Congress. This does two things. It strengthens the party and creates a favourable atmosphere for it, at the same time weakening the other parties. As far as party workers are concerned, they might get upset but with the concurrent Modi-wave, disgruntled leaders from other parties do not have any other option.”

On the other hand, senior journalist Ravish Kumar writes on his blog, “The Sangh must find it hard to wait any longer for a Hindu rashtra. Like a learner’s driving licence, they are looking to create a temporary ‘learner’s Hindu rashtra’ which may be rendered permanent in time. I write this in all seriousness but if it amuses you, you are free to laugh. I will be glad if you do. One wonders how the former Congress, SP and BSP leaders meet each other within the BJP. What do they say to each other? One finds it funny. Is the BJP a bank? Like the old currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000, leaders from other political parties come to the BJP and are exchanged for new ones. Earlier, it was commonly believed that there are people from the BJP in the Congress. But for the first time, one can say that there are people from the Congress within the BJP.”

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. You can read this article in Hindi here.

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