Political leaders continue to switch parties and any fear of repercussions. Consistency, as they say, is a virtue of asses. Whatever one may think about our politicians, their virtues or even vices are certainly not asinine. They follow the age-old adage that in politics, there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests. This is the reason why they have no compunctions in switching sides, particularly during election time, when personal and political ambitions replace ideology for convenience.
Now, this is quite a routine at the State level. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, leaders move seamlessly from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Samajwadi Party (SP) or Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and vice-versa if their own party doesn’t give them a ticket to fight the Assembly or Lok Sabha polls. However, at the national level, this was not very usual till recently. In the last few years, this, too, has changed. In West Bengal, they say the faces don’t change, only the colour does.
As the narrative of waning ideology and political ambition takes centrestage, the common man, the most important cog in the wheel of democracy, has been taken for granted as if he/she is captive and pinned to the political leaders rather than to the ideology or other relevant social and economic issues that have a direct bearing on his/her monotonous daily life. It is time that we, the people of India, must decide whether political ideology and principles are only a hyperbole, reserved for rhetoric on television debates or do they translate into action on the ground.
Examples of political leaders, who have sacrificed ideology at the altar of political ambitions, are aplenty and have been witnessed across party lines. Take the example of motor-mouth Navjot Singh Sidhu. When in the BJP, he used to regale crowds with his one-liners and ridicule Congress leaders. Back then, he did not even spare a thorough gentleman like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sidhu had called Manmohan Singh a “Pappu Prime Minister” and said he didn’t know if the former Prime Minister was a sardar (Sikh) or not. “Sir, you worked hard silently in such a way that your success created an uproar. Sir, you are a sardar and also asardar (effective)”, he had said. Once he joined the Congress, it was revealed to Sidhu that he was wrong earlier: “I want to apologise to sardar Manmohan Singh with my head hanging down. I want to say that sardar Manmohan Singh, what your maun (silence) has done, the noise made by BJP could not do so.”
However, the story of Priyanka Chaturvedi, one of the prominent spokespersons of the Congress till a few days ago, is a little different. She joined the Shiv Sena, which has made her upneta of the party. In the past, she was at the forefront of those fighting “communalism.” During the communal clashes of Uttar Pradesh in December last year, that led to the death of a cop and a youth, she had slammed the BJP leadership at both the Centre and the State and accused it of polarising the country in the name of religion and caste. “BJP’s political trajectory since 1980 is on the basis of creating religious divides. Today, unfortunately it has reached a stage where they are now trying to divide gods over the castes,” she said.
It does not bother her now that she has joined the BJP’s oldest ally and ideologically kindred spirit Shiv Sena. In fact, among her immediate priorities, she has listed championing the cause of empowering women in politics and other fields besides helping “strengthen and build up Shiv Sena at the national level.”
The case of former Congress leader and a close aide of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Tom Vadakkan, is similar, too. For years, he had slammed the BJP for its “communal agenda.” A few weeks ago, however, he joined the “communal” party.
For two decades, former Lok Sabha member Baijayant Panda was a senior leader of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). He recently joined the BJP, soon after which he was made its national vice-president and spokesperson. To be fair to Panda, he seldom, if ever, took an extreme stand against the saffron party when with the BJD in the manner that Chaturvedi did. Yet, switching sides during the war can scarcely be called exemplary behaviour.
Then there is actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who recently quit the BJP to join the Congress. This, just because Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah didn’t give him any responsibility. He turned his back on the party and joined the Congress. In fact, even before joining the grand old party and still being a BJP MP, he attended a rally of Opposition leaders in Patna.
At another rally in the same city, he talked about the “most important role” Congress leaders had played for the development and freedom of the country. “…Inki party hai jinka desh ke vikas me, desh ki tarakki me, desh ki azadi me sabse mehatvapurna aur sabse bada yogdaan hua, isliye hum yaha aye,” (they [Congress] had the most important role in development and freedom of the country. This is the reason why I have come here,” Sinha said while addressing a rally. As Daagh Dehlvi wrote, “Badi der ki meherbaan aate aate.” It took you decades to realise this, Mr Sinha!
Praveen Nishad, however, took just a year to quit the SP, from whose ticket he had emerged victorious in the Lok Sabha by election last year, and joined the BJP, whose very candidate he had defeated.
What these leaders and their actions show is that political philosophy and ideology mean little. It’s not that such transgressions mean anything to the loyalists but the turncoats bring greater disrepute to politics. The aaya ram gaya ram (come and go men) phase in Indian politics was checked to some extent by the anti-defection law in 1985. However, the lack of any specific laws, provision of mandatory cooling off period or electoral restrictions have ensured that the menace of political leaders switching parties without any fear or remorse continues to remain as easy and casual as changing clothes. The collective consciousness of democracy demands that political leaders, who are the representatives of the people, must be distinguishable from speculators in financial markets, who are constantly on the lookout for a better deal.
We have not seen the last of these political switches as we come closer to the results of the Lok Sabha elections. A fractured verdict will give rise to numerous permutations, which will be at play to form the new Government, and we are likely to witness more such instances of political turncoats to remind us of Ekta Kapoor’s ditty for her long-standing TV show: “Rishton ke bhi roop badalte hain, naye naye saanchen mein dhaalte hain (Relationships change and get cast in new moulds).”
It goes without saying that we, the people of India, who elect leaders and whose interests our political masters claim to represent, rarely figure in their calculations. We are taken for a ride. As the backbone of the largest democracy of the world, we must not identify ourselves with political parties but ideology and real issues. The herd mentality has got us nowhere.
Former US President Ronald Reagan had once said, “It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.” In India, the resemblance just became even more striking.
(The writer is a political commentator, Barrister and practising advocate in the Supreme Court of India)
Writer: Sameer Chaudhary
Courtesy: The Pioneer