The Bharatiya Janata Party’s present bosses – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah – have been systematically dynamiting democracy in state after state. Their latest act of destabilising a democratically elected government is now under way in Madhya Pradesh, where over 20 Congress MLAs have been purchased and made to resign after successfully plotting the exit of a disgruntled Congress leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia, from his party. With the ruling Congress government’s numbers in the state legislative assembly reduced to a minority, the BJP plans to install its own government in MP.
This act of political corruption and immorality has added a new and noxious phrase, ‘Operation Kamal’, to the lexicon of Indian democracy. The BJP has earlier enacted variations of ‘Operation Kamal’ in other states. In Karnataka, 17 Congress MLAs were lured into resigning in 2019, enabling the BJP to topple the Congress-JD(S) government and forming its own under the leadership of BS Yediyurappa. In Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP formed a government in 2016 by engineering the defection of 33 of the 43 MLAs of the People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh. In Manipur in 2017, the Congress had emerged as the single-largest party with 28 MLAs, and BJP trailed with 21. Yet the BJP formed the government with the defection of 6 Congress MLAs. The same thing happened in Goa, where the BJP formed the government even though its tally (13) in the 2017 elections was lower than that of the Congress (17). This list of political skulduggery excludes the BJP’s unsuccessful attempt to split the Sharad Pawar-led NCP in its midnight coup in Maharashtra with the willing complicity of Rashtrapati Bhavan and Governor’s House in November last year.
The Modi-Shah strategy of making India “Congress-mukt” prompts me to think of what the previous generation of BJP leaders might have said about these murderous attacks on democracy. I am surmising this on the basis of my own active political life in the BJP between 1996 and 2013.
Let me begin with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who founded the BJP in 1980, and who was one of the tall leaders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJP’s previous avatar) since its inception in 1951. One of India’s most admired politicians, he used to regularly exhort his own partymen, “Lust for power, and attempts to capture it ‘enkena prakaarena’ (through means fair or foul), is a disease that afflicts Indian democracy.” As someone whose own government was conspiratorially toppled by the Congress and its allies in 1999 by just one (questionable) vote in parliament, he often said, “Democracy is not just an arithmetic game of 51% vs 49%. It is a moral commitment to respect the mandate of the people and also to abide by the promises made to the people.” Would Vajpayee have approved of the BJP’s murky conspiracy to topple the Congress government in MP using obscene amounts of money and employing a Congress defector whose sole motivation, it has now become clear, is lust for power? No.
Let me now turn to Lal Krishna Advani, another BJP stalwart, who, like Vajpayee, began his political journey with the formation of the Jana Sangh in 1951. After Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, Advani, like Vajpayee, was elevated to the membership of the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ (Guidance Committee). It was nothing but a euphemism for ensuring the silence of the party elders because Modi and Shah (who became the party president in 2014) never convened a single meeting of the committee. Nevertheless, when Advani was the BJP president (and he has served as its chief for the longest period in the party’s history), he gave the following ‘margdarshan’ to his partymen on numerous occasions: “You must never forget why the BJP chose ‘Kamal’ (Lotus) as its party symbol. ‘Kamal’ is a flower that retains its shuchita (purity) even when it blooms in keechad (filthy water). Therefore, our party symbol constantly reminds us that the BJP must remain a party wedded to the ideal of clean politics even though we work in an environment made filthy by the corrupt and unethical practices of other parties.” Would Advani have approved the degeneration of the ‘Kamal’ party into ‘Keechad’ party? No.
But why only Vajpayee and Advani? Would Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya (1916-1968), the ideological guru of the Jana Sangh and the BJP, have endorsed ‘Operation Kamal’? Certainly not. Indeed, had he been alive, he would have been aghast at seeing that the BJP pays crores of rupees to make opposition MLAs resign in a bid to topple non-BJP governments. (To know how many crores were paid for the success of ‘Operation Kamal’ in Karnataka – 25 and more to each MLA willing to resign – listen to the audio tapes, available online.)
In a remarkable article, titled ‘Your Vote’, which Upadhyaya wrote as an appeal to the electorate in the run-up to the 1962 Lok Sabha elections (which was published in two parts in Organiser weekly on 4th and 11th December 1961), he minced no words in condemning politics sans principles: “[E]expediency and opportunism should not pass for realism. Realism is a virtue of the idealist, the principled man, the missionary; it is not a characteristic of the man with an easy conscience, the opportunist and the apostate. Political parties and leaders by their behaviour determined the values of political life. They set the norms. Naturally, their policies should in no case violate these norms of public behaviour. Democracy is not simply elections. It requires a well-organised people, well-built parties and well-established conventions of political behaviour.”
Decrying those who indulge in the politics of “purchasing” votes, Upadhyaya writes: “For them no price is too high. All that they want is to grease their way to [power]…If steps are not taken to mend [these malpractices], powerful lobbies will emerge in the country’s legislatures and political decisions will hardly be taken in an objective manner taking into consideration only the welfare of the people and furtherance of national interests. The parties that want to develop into major parties should be careful not to sacrifice principles for quick gains.”
Modi and Shah may not care, but will the right-thinking people in the BJP care to read the words of warning penned by their own ideological icon nearly six decades ago? The Jana Sangh in the early 1960s was a marginal party in Indian politics which was then dominated by a colossus called the Congress. Nevertheless, Upadhyaya was cautioning his own partymen – If you want to develop into a major party, you “should be careful not to sacrifice principles for quick gains”.
For quick gains, and for subordinating party interests to self-interest, Modi and Shah have sacrificed principles necessary for preserving the health and efficacy of democracy in India. They may gain power in Madhya Pradesh in the coming days. But the BJP will be a loser in the long run, both morally and politically.
(The writer was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.)