Operation Topple: what is the tipping point?

Bypassing the people’s mandate and cornering MLAs with money or pressure is the politics du jour. But who benefits from these machinations?

Sayantan GhoshUpdated: Wednesday, June 29, 2022, 01:02 AM IST
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In 'toppling politics', most politicians are kept under hawk-eyed security surveillance and forced to turn off their cell phones. REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO | Photo: File

After the Rajya Sabha elections, it became clear that something was brewing in Maharashtra politics. In a major setback for the Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party got all of its three candidates elected from Maharashtra. This clearly happened because of an internal rift within the Shiv Sena. And then the big Maharashtra crisis began. Today, state after state in India is witnessing this new politics of toppling state governments. On the one hand, there is a pattern, but on the other hand there are several questions in the minds of people. The details and technicalities of the minute-to-minute developments of the Maharashtra crisis cannot be described in one article. This is why here I will raise some questions regarding this kind of politics, where the sitting government comes under pressure from its own people and then loses power.

Eknath Shinde (58), a four-time MLA and cabinet minister, rebelled against the MVA government on Monday night and left Mumbai with a sizeable number of MLAs. They then travelled to Surat in Gujarat, from where they were then airlifted to Guwahati, causing a major political crisis for the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Maharashtra. Meanwhile, Shinde and 15 other dissident MLAs in the Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly now have till July 12 to submit a written response to the Deputy Speaker's disqualification notice, thanks to an order from the Supreme Court on Monday. The deputy speaker set a deadline of Monday at 5.30 PM.

Who benefits from such politics?

Maharashtra is not the first state where efforts to topple the government are taking place. In state after state, there are examples of this trend. Starting from Karnataka to Madhya Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh, the list is long. The first question that comes to the minds of people is, who benefits from this kind of politics? It appears that the opposition party in these cases, the BJP, is the key beneficiary in these cases. However, it is not that simple. From this kind of politics, several people associated with politics, business and others benefit.

Resorts, flights – where does the money come from?

The new normal is for them to be relocated to a luxury hotel or resort that is transformed into an impregnable fortress by the party that holds the reins of those legislators; whether it be an attempt to overthrow the government in Maharashtra or keeping the flock of lawmakers together during the recently held Rajya Sabha elections. With the setting being an opulent resort or hotel transformed into an impregnable fortress, where politicians are frequently seen playing cricket, cards, ludo, and antakshari to pass the time as political temperatures flare outside, the anatomy of resort politics is also now relatively defined. Additionally, most politicians are kept under hawk-eyed security surveillance and forced to turn off their cell phones, as was the case with Shinde when the political crisis in Maharashtra first started. This makes the uprising to overthrow a government a one-way track with no backward turns. Similarly, all these leaders travel mostly in chartered flights. In the mind of every person the question arises, where does this huge amount of money come from? Some people believe that it is the money spent by only the political party behind toppling the governments, but others believe that there is the involvement of big industrialists who finance these games for a larger benefit based on "setting".

Does the anti-defection law really work?

The anti-defection statute is once again in the spotlight due to the political situation in Maharashtra. All indications point to the law failing to support the stability of elected governments. In recent years, defections have caused the fall of numerous regimes, yet the defectors have not faced any deterrent consequences. In addition to undermining the fundamental idea of representation, the anti-defection law has exacerbated polarisation in our nation by making it hard to reach a consensus on any matter unrelated to party allegiance. The law has weakened our democracy rather than brought stability. The recent situation of Maharashtra again shows that this law is of no use, and such redundant useless laws had better be scrapped.

How do pressure tactics work against rebels?

The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) pressure politics are a significant contributing factor to the current political turmoil in Maharashtra. This can be understood by using the instances of two ministers, Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh, who are both imprisoned at the moment and were barred from casting votes in the most recent Rajya Sabha and MLC elections. Anil Deshmukh, an NCP leader and former home minister of Maharashtra, was charged by the CBI with financial corruption in April 2020. He was charged with accepting a bribe for Rs 100 crores. Earlier this year, on February 23, another MVA minister, Nawab Malik, was detained in connection with a money laundering case involving the mobster Dawood Ibrahim and his henchmen. Maharashtra politics insiders believe that similar threats are there against the rebel MLAs as well.

Beyond all these questions it becomes clear that today in Indian politics the need for respecting the mandate of the people is becoming irrelevant. Similarly, it is clear that today there is little room for political ideology. At the end of the day, Indian politics is more and more becoming only about numbers and power. It is not easy to answer who is responsible or who is spending these massive amounts to topple these governments. But at the end of the day, the most crucial observation is that such politics violates every spirit of democracy. But it unfortunately seems to be the new normal.

(The author is an independent journalist and columnist based in Kolkata and a former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Center. Views expressed are personal. He tweets as @sayantan_gh.)

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