Leaders switching sides are quite the flavour of the election season in Rajasthan. In a brazen trend, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have given numerous tickets to 'turncoats’ without any qualms of political morality or public propriety.
To field ‘winnable’ candidates from other parties, often within a few hours of their joining, both parties have set aside their principles and ideologies since the prime agenda is to win elections at any cost.
As both sides reward turncoats with tickets, dedicated party workers have been sacrificed on several seats.
Role Reversals Characterise Rajasthan Polls
In the party-hopping spree, the most glaring case is that of Girraj Singh Malinga, the sitting Congress MLA from Dholpur who joined the BJP and a few hours later, was made BJP candidate for the Bari seat. In March last year, Malinga had allegedly assaulted Harshadhipati Valmiki – a Dalit engineer.
Malinga and his cronies allegedly thrashed the victim so brutally that he suffered multiple fractures, including a broken femur, whereby he is still unable to walk.
Given that shameful incident, Malinga, a three-time MLA undefeated since 2008, was not made a Congress candidate. Ultimately, Malinga switched to the BJP on the morning of 5 November, Sunday, and by evening, he got the BJP ticket.
His induction raises grave questions about the BJP’s storm in the State Assembly last year over Malinga’s actions which the party had called a reflection of "the jungle raj of Congress.” Besides the rude jolt to the victim, Dalit groups are opposing the BJP move to field Malinga which they claim proves that the Saffron party’s "slogans against Dalit atrocities are just an election gimmick.”
Shockingly, the Congress has fielded a BJP turncoat against Malinga. Prashant Singh Parmar is now the Congress candidate though in 2018 he fought for the Bari seat on a BJP ticket. Parmar switched sides last Sunday and got the Congress ticket in a few hours.
So, candidates for the two major parties on the Bari seat will be the same as in the 2018 elections – except that the Congress candidate then will now fight from the BJP and the BJP candidate then is now the Congress nominee!
BJP: A Haven for Turncoats
If this is not bizarre enough, an identical situation exists in another seat in the same district. Shobharani Kushwaha, who won the Dholpur seat on a BJP ticket in 2018, was expelled from the party for voting for a Congress candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections last year. She joined the Congress on 25 October and is now the party’s candidate from the region.
Ironically, the BJP has fielded Shivcharan Kushwaha who fought the last election as a Congress candidate but has now joined the saffron brigade! So Dholpur will see a repeat of the 2018 contest – except that the Congress-BJP protagonists have switched parties!
Another striking example of unprecedented party-hopping comes from the Tijara seat in Alwar. While the BJP has fielded Lok Sabha MP Baba Balak Nath on this seat, the Congress has brought in Imran Khan who had already been declared as the official BSP candidate! Khan fought the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as a BSP candidate from Alwar but after switching sides, he replaced the sitting Congress candidate Sandeep Kumar.
The ruling Congress has granted tickets to many other former BJP leaders. These include Vikas Chaudhary from Kishangarh, Surendra Goyal from Jaitaran, and Colonel Sona Ram in Barmer. Vikas Chaudhary was the BJP candidate from Kishangarh in 2018 but announced his independent candidacy after the BJP gave its ticket to the Ajmer Lok Sabha MP. He joined the Congress at a Priyanka Gandhi rally on October 25 and days later got the Kishangarh ticket.
Similarly, the Congress has fielded former BJP MP Sonaram Choudhary from the Gudamalani seat in Barmer. Sonaram returned to the Congress nine years after he switched to the BJP for the 2014 general elections. He got the Congress ticket within hours of rejoining the Congress on Sunday. Also, Surendra Goyal, a former minister in Vasundhara Raje's government, who was denied a BJP ticket in the 2018 polls, has become the Congress candidate from Jaitaran.
Baits Behind Politicians Jumping Ship
Despite its tall claims of commitment to ideology, the BJP has given more tickets to turncoats. Besides the shocking case of Malinga, the BJP has fielded several leaders switching parties.
Turncoats, who got BJP tickets just a few hours or days after leaving the Congress, include Subhash Meel, Darshan Singh Gurjar, and Uday Lal Dangi who are now BJP candidates for Khandela, Karauli, and Vallabhnagar seats, respectively. Another prominent crossover is Ramniwas Meena, who was leading a movement for ERCP (East Rajasthan Canal Project that the Congress is making a key election issue) joined the BJP and was quickly named the candidate from the Todabhim seat.
Besides Congress turncoats, the BJP has also made former BSP leader Bhagchand Saini its candidate from Dausa’s Bandikui seat.
Beyond Congress-BJP, Mayawati's BSP and Hanuman Beniwal's RLP have readily taken rebels from all parties. Given their distinct lack of organisation and leaders at the grassroots, both these parties have become a refuge for BJP-Congress rebels.
Amid swirling rumours of tickets being sold for hefty sums to eager aspirants, over two dozen leaders from the two big parties have joined RLP and BSP in the last few weeks to contest the elections.
This mind-boggling party hopping has left many in Rajasthan rather confused about which leader is in which party! Given that many have gotten tickets within a few hours of junking their parties, leaders like Jyoti Mirdha and Subhash Maharia who switched sides a few months ago are looking like party veterans who have been named as candidates!
Money Driving Elections
Fundamentally, does this sordid scenario imply that ideology is dead? Does any party stand for any values and principles or is politics now only an unadulterated pursuit of power? Are claims about ‘Chaal, Charitra, Chehra’ for BJP just empty slogans? Is commitment to secularism just a convenient cover for Congress? Many confused voters are now plagued with such troubling queries but no party is likely to provide any answers.
The growing list of Netas switching sides also reflects the growing role of money in our polity. Elections have become a costly exercise and most parties now seem to field candidates not on the basis of their merit or popularity but on their ability to mobilise resources for campaigns. So, electoral politics has thrown up a set of careerist politicians who are in it more for personal gains than for ideological conviction.
The Congress-BJP have, of course, fielded turncoats hoping that ‘parachute’ candidates will shine for them in the 25 November polls. But this scenario questions their sincerity about nurturing local leaders or fielding fresh faces. No wonder, loud voices of dissent have erupted in both parties as several sidelined leaders have filed nominations as Independents. Both parties are now facing over two dozen rebels who could decisively impact many key contests.
For the moment, parties in Rajasthan appear to have become Dharmamshalas where anyone can enter or leave at their convenience. As Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram culture flourishes in all parties, voters hardly have an abundance of ethical candidates. What this carnival of party hopping does for Indian democracy is, of course, an altogether different question that no party is keen to address!
(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)