Cover story

BJP’s brazen ventures to topple democratically elected governments in the name of Operation Lotus makes a mockery of democracy

Print edition : March 26, 2021

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the then BJP president, at the release of the party manifesto in New Delhi on April 8, 2019. Photo: Bloomberg

Former Goa Chief Ministers Digambar Kamat, Luizinho Faleiro, Pratapsingh Rane, and Ravi Naik, along with Curtorim MLA Reginald Lawrenco, on the second day of the Assembly session on July 16, 2019. They were the only Congress MLAs left after 10 legislators from the party defected to the BJP. Photo: Atish Pomburfekar

Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy leading a candlelight protest against the BJP for encouraging horse trading in Karnataka and Goa, on July 14, 2019. Photo: T. Singaravelou

In the face of its failure to achieve its goal of a Congress-free India, the Bharatiya Janata Party is on a spree of toppling legitimately elected governments through foul means, making a mockery of democracy.

The slogan Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India) was raised by Narendra Modi in 2013 early in the run-up to his successful campaign for the 2014 general election, as the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was reeling under a spate of allegations, including corruption charges against Ministers, policy paralysis and directionless governance. All these factors had added to the anti-incumbency sentiment that the 10-year regime of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA faced after two consecutive terms.

Naturally, the slogan found much resonance among the electorate and the Congress was pushed down to its lowest ever tally of 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. After assuming office as Prime Minister, Modi continued to harp on the slogan in the string of Assembly elections that followed in different States. The slogan’s efficacy was evident from the BJP’s striking victories in Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, in 2014.

After tasting victory, Modi elaborated on the slogan. His explanation was that the slogan was not just about inflicting a series of electoral defeats on the grand old party of India but was about ridding the country of the “venal Congress culture”.

Modi’s ‘thesis’

Modi went on to add that for several decades since Independence, the Congress had been the main pillar of Indian politics and that, as a consequence, its culture had spread to all the parties in the political spectrum and governance systems. In his view, this was a culture marked by corruption, casteism, dynastic politics, exploitation, treachery and an overwhelming urge to have total control over power, violating the basic tenets of democracy. Thus, his call for a “Congress-mukt Bharat” was not merely a straightforward electoral presentation but had significant import in terms of the larger political situation in the country.

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It was clear that the slogan was not just about the Congress but about erasing the political relevance of all parties who shared the “Congress culture”. Evidently, “Congress-mukt Bharat” was a euphemism for “Opposition-mukt India”.

An important point that Modi used to stress in these expositions was what he called the overarching and aggressive pursuit of power by the Congress right from the days of the first Prime Minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru. While talking about this, Modi used to elaborate on how the Congress employed vile means, including threats, blackmail, policies of appeasement and bribes, to wean away politicians from other parties and break them.

Modi’s steady contention was that the Congress had no sense of democracy in reference to the larger political system and relationship with other parties. As for internal democracy, it was totally non-existent in the Congress’ organisational structure, he said.

Mirror of Congress

Some seven and a half years after Modi vociferously held forth on these points, now it is the BJP’s own aggressive hunt for political power in the States that represents all the characteristics attributed to the Congress by him. In other words, it is the contemporary BJP, led by Narendra Modi and his associates like Amit Shah, which has become the epitome of “Congress culture” and its hubris as defined by Modi himself.

Recent developments in West Bengal and Puducherry, where all sorts of blandishments and intimidations were unleashed on politicians belonging to rival parties, have made this trait all too conspicuous. In Puducherry, Members of the Legislative Assembly belonging to the Congress were allegedly bought over by deploying crores of rupees to bring down the Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government barely a few days before the election date for the next Assembly was announced. In West Bengal, the BJP employed the same tactics to lure scores of Trinamool Congress leaders to its side.

Also read: BJP uses defection as a political device in Bengal election run-up

Several instances in Indian history underscore the deficiency of political morality in the BJP and its associates in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar.

They include the sustained efforts to undermine the national liberation struggle in the period between the early 1920s to the late 1940s, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi following the attainment of Independence, the rejection of the Constitution and the national flag, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 after giving an assurance to the Supreme Court about a “peaceful kar seva”, the flip-flops made by its leaders like Lal Krishna Advani on the anti-defection laws at different points in time, and the anti-Muslim genocide carried out in Gujarat when the BJP was in power in the State and Modi was the Chief Minister.

The track record of the Modi regime at the Centre, through his two terms as Prime Minister, showed that political morality has reached a new low.

A major reason for the high visibility of this plunge is the self-righteous propaganda that Modi unleashed against the ‘Congress culture’ and the holier-than-thou aura he has sought to create around himself right from the days of his campaign as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013-14.

Early in his term as Prime Minister and in the background of a series of electoral victories in State Assemblies, his expositions evoked considerable public appreciation.

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However, by the end of the first year of his first term, the excitement created by these pontifications started to ebb on account of the government’s many evident failures in terms of strengthening the rural agrarian economy and ensuring communal harmony.

The Bihar Assembly election in November 2015 highlighted the slogan’s waning appeal. The new grand alliance that came up in the State through the association of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Janata Dal (United) or JD (U) and the Congress trounced the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and stormed to power with Nitish Kumar of the JD (U) as Chief Minister. The Congress too was back in action as a junior partner in governance.

The Assembly elections in the following years too underscored the fact that despite substantive gains in States such as Assam and Tripura, the BJP was far from either creating a “Congress-mukt Bharat” or “eradicating the Congress culture”.

Statistically, of the five States that had Assembly elections in 2016, the BJP could gain power only in Assam.

Also read: Leadership vacuum in the Congress party

Of the other four, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu were retained by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and the Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), while the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) wrested Kerala from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), and Puducherry was won by a Congress-DMK alliance.

In the Assembly elections held in 2017, the BJP easily won Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, its traditional strongholds, but faced a stiff fight in Modi’s own State of Gujarat from the Congress. The BJP did return to power here, but undoubtedly it was a Pyrrhic victory. In Punjab the BJP’s alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was squarely defeated, again by the Congress.

The elections in the smaller States of Goa and Manipur threw up hung Assemblies with the Congress emerging as the single largest party in both places, but the BJP used its well-oiled party machinery and money and muscle power to form governments in both.

The Assembly election results of 2018 were an absolute shocker for the BJP as they showed the failure of its “Congress-mukt Bharat” slogan.

The northern shock

In the major northern States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Congress defeated the BJP and wrested power. The southern State of Karnataka too elected the opposition alliance of the Janata Dal (Socialist) and the Congress.

While the victory in Chhattisgarh was comprehensive, the Congress had only slender majorities in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Immediately after the results, the BJP leadership embarked on toppling games in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan. The attempts succeeded in Karnataka in July 2019 and in Madhya Pradesh in March 2020, when the BJP managed to wean away several Congress MLAs. In Madhya Pradesh it also got a prize catch in the form of senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. Similar games were tried out in Rajasthan where the party attempted to lure Sachin Pilot, but the Congress managed to mollify him and staved off a crisis.

The BJP did score big in the Lok Sabha election of 2019 riding on a “wave of patriotism and jingoism” created by the Pulwama terrorist attack in the run-up to the elections (see Frontline, March 12, 2021). However, the Assembly elections in 2019 did not reflect the same dominance. Long-term BJP ally Shiv Sena gave the BJP a taste of its own medicine when it ditched the saffron party and joined hands with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to form the government.

Jharkhand elected a coalition government led by the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and the Congress with a clear majority. Haryana threw up a hung Assembly and the BJP was forced to seek the support of the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) to form the government. In 2020, Delhi rejected the BJP once again, re-electing the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), while in Bihar, the opposition alliance comprising the RJD, the Congress and the Left parties put up a spirited fight and the JD (U)-BJP alliance barely scraped through.

It is in the background of these reverses suffered by the “opposition-mukt Bharat” idea and the intense urge to somehow post electoral gains that the party’s manoeuvres in West Bengal and Puducherry unfolded. Along with these two States, Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu will go to the polls in March-April.

The BJP’s adoption of “Congress culture” as defined by Modi is so thorough and complete that even in a State like Kerala where the party has no electoral clout, the regime has deployed Central agencies including the Enforcement Directorate, the Customs and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to cook up cases against several people, including leaders of the LDF government as well as senior officials.

Also read: BJP trying to topple State governments: Game of thrones

Once again exposing the party’s complete assimilation of the “Congress culture”, Kerala State BJP president K. Surendran publicly claimed that even if the BJP was able to win 40 to 50 seats in an Assembly of 140 seats, it would form the government in the State. How is this possible? The only answer to this question is horse trading, wheeling-dealing, employing strong-arm tactics and offering blandishments to legislators.

Indications from within the BJP are that once the current round of Assembly elections is over, the party and the Union government’s machinery would once again concentrate on Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, with plans to topple the opposition governments there. The successful manoeuvres in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh as well as the unsuccessful ones in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Jharkhand were named “Operation Lotus” by BJP and Sangh Parivar insiders. Apparently, the operations planned for the near future are also titled “Operation Lotus 2021”.

According to the insiders, the earlier moves in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Jharkhand failed because the Madhya Pradesh-Karnataka formula was not properly followed. The latter formula apparently involved spending crores of rupees to buy out the MLAs and make them resign.

An influential Bengaluru-based businessman considered close to the BJP State leadership said: “The quantum of money you require for this type of operation runs into thousands of crores. While handling that kind of money, some handlers go wrong and pursue their own personal interests and vices. This is what happened to some legislators of Karnataka who got named in some recent sex scandals.”

Once upon a time, the BJP used to call itself a “party with a difference”, highlighting the shenanigans of leaders and activists of other parties, but with its absolute adoption of the “Congress culture”, the masks are off and the mantra within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar is capture of power, whatever the cost.