Mukul Roy’s Top Bengal Switch National Lessons
Bringing Mukul Roy back to the Trinamool Congress isn’t just about Mamata Banerjee repaying the BJP in her own room. There are broader and deeper insights into the market for political defectors and defectors.
First, defections often tell a bigger story. A series of high-profile departures from TMC followed Roy’s exit in 2017. They tested TMC’s resilience. Each defection had allowed the BJP to fuel the regime change narrative – until, of course, it all fell apart on May 2. Roy’s return is therefore also indicative of a bigger story in reverse.
Second, those who change parties are often important to the act of changing, not important in and of themselves. Roy probably knows his best days are behind him after Mamata’s relentless victory without him by his side and with Suvendu Adhikari’s rise to BJP. Roy, the strategist for TMC’s 2011 ouster of CPM from Bengal, is now a pawn in Mamata’s political failures against BJP. Once a star deserter, he felt left out of BJP and will most likely be a symbol in TMC.
Third, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Bengal redesigns mean that the BJP is becoming like the other parties on this point. Roy or even Mamata’s other take, Yashwant Sinha, are not BJP thoroughbreds. Unlike other parties that regularly lose leaders after a lifetime of investing in them, the BJP has rarely worried about this. Few of the stray BJP warhorses that had left, like BS Yediyurappa, Kalyan Singh, and Keshubhai Patel, all quickly returned. The BJP, although it was not in power for 10 years between 2004 and 2014, did not have too many veterans who left the ship.
Fourth, despite this, Bengal shows that the BJP’s poaching strategy can present organizational challenges there and elsewhere. Reports indicate that even old and loyal cadres are unhappy in Bengal. State is BJP’s first defeat after betting big on defectors. Poaching had paid rich dividends to Assam, MP, Karnataka, Gujarat, Manipur, Goa, Tripura and Uttarakhand.
However, if power is the only glue, as Bengal points out, things could get more difficult. In MP, the inclusion of Jyotiraditya Scindia helped put Shivraj Singh Chouhan in place of Kamal Nath. But Scindia supporters upset the internal dynamics of MP BJP. In Karnataka, the troubles simmer since the ministerial bonus of Yediyurappa for the defectors of the Congress-JD (S).
The recent assembly elections were not a one-sided business like the Lok Sabha polls of 2014 or 2019. So these defectors could be the weakest link in the BJP if opposition to power grows. Today’s regional parties like TMC, AAP, NCP, RJD, Shiv Sena, AIADMK, YSRCP and SP have also shown a strong tendency to regroup when under pressure.
Fifth, as in so many other things and despite the potential problems, the BJP does a better job of poaching than Congress. Defections became an integral part of the Indian political landscape after Congress’s setback in the 1967 election, when it failed to secure a simple majority in nearly half of the 16 state assemblies that surrendered at the polls.
But although the initiator of this trend, Congress has, especially recently, botched the defector market. Himanta Biswa Sarma left Congress after losing hope of gaining the trust of Rahul Gandhi, Scindia felt cornered by Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. Jitin Prasada, a Brahmin leader of the UP, was obviously seen as an asset by the BJP, which probably fears the disaffection of the Brahmins in the state.
The success of the BJP has been to give potential defectors a glimpse of the opportunities available. Congress, on the other hand, seems to be particularly proud of rushing defections. Sachin Pilot was a rare exception.
Finally, defections and re-defections are here to stay. Any bite associated with changing parties is long gone. From the infamous Gaya Lal in 1967 to Jitin Prasada and Mukul Roy in 2021, only the desire to stay in the account, and stay close to power, is permanent.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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