The Congress in Telangana is under threat of losing its Opposition status in the Assembly after nine MLAs defected from the party to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti as of Wednesday. As parties gear up for the Lok Sabha polls, TRS has the support of 100 MLAs in the Assembly, which includes the 88 legislators elected on the party’s ticket.
But what has triggered the exodus from the Congress? TNM spoke to experts and analysts who pointed to personal economic interests, a lack of direction within the party, and a threat to MLAs’ political relevance as Congress leadership appears to weaken.
Economic and political interests
For Padmaja Shaw, former professor of communication at Osmania University, the motivation is economic interest.
“In Indian politics, especially the way it's happening in Telangana, it is showing us all these other things they talk about — caste, community, religion, all these things are not factors at all. Working people and ordinary people are not a factor. It is a clear-cut class thing where economic interest is concerned,” she says.
She cites the move to scrap GO 111, which protects the catchment areas of the Himayatsagar and Osmansagar lakes in and around Hyderabad. This, she says, is to open up the area surrounding the lake for real estate. “There are powerful politicians from opposition parties in those areas. And they are trying to get them in, and they got them.”
According to political analyst Telakapalli Ravi, it’s the threat of fading political existence for the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party in Telangana that’s making them jump to other parties. And mainly for the Congress, whose leadership has been weak, he says.
“Congress lost miserably in the last (Assembly) election. After that, many of the younger faces or powerful faces from Congress quickly switched over to TRS. They are not prepared to put up a valiant fight. Most of them have lost hope,” he says.
Ravi says that “lack of commitment, direction, and support from the high command” is what has caused the Congress’ undoing in the state. Even in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Ravi said that the fight is only nominal. “Even in places like Khammam or Nalgonda, where the Congress has reasonable chances, the TRS has been able to initiate defections,” he says.
This was also the reason cited by DK Aruna, a senior Congress leader and former minister who switched to the BJP this week. “The Congress is continuing to deteriorate due to some of the senior Congress leaders in the party,” she had said.
The perception of winnability is also a crucial reason behind defections, said senior journalist and political analyst K Nageshwar Rao. “Political parties give winnability precedence over loyalty so the defections were obvious. If they don't get the ticket in one party they defect to another party,” he says.
Despite winning a thumping majority in the Assembly polls, the TRS working towards attracting so many leaders in order to effectively kill the Opposition, the analysts say.
“The ruling party has a lot of money and contracts. Political power is in the hands of the ruling party, so the ruling party wants to decimate the opposition. They don't want any opposition or any questions to be asked from the government,” Nageshwar says.
If there’s one thread that Padmaja, Ravi and Nageshwar agree upon, it’s that ideology does not matter.
“There is no difference in political parties except the leaders, the entire crop is the same. There are no values, no ideology, it is highly personality-centric,” Nageshwar says.
Overall, democracy is being derailed as loyalty towards mandate pledges effectively disappears when politicians cross over. “It is a betrayal of the voter,” says Padmaja.
And this, she says, is because the institutions that are supposed to keep the practice in check are not carrying out their functions either.
The Anti-Defection Law
According to the law, “a legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote”. As per this, a legislator can be disqualified if they defy the party whip.
But Padmaja says, “Contempt of court doesn't matter, and defections that happened in the last round — till now, neither the courts nor the governor, nor the speaker, nobody has been held accountable. It's a free for all now. There's no checks and balances anymore left in the system, and the political class has always been driven by self-interest.”
The TRS has been accused of misusing the law, as no legislator was disqualified — either during the TRS’s first term or in the present.
Accusations of misusing the anti-defection law is something the TRS has acknowledged as well. In an article written on the TRS-owned Telangana Today, by the Chief PRO to the KCR, Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao, who wrote: “When an elected member feels that his party is not in a position to implement electoral promises, s/he is left with no alternative except to quit the parent party. In a way, the anti-defection law restricts representatives from voicing the concerns of their voters in opposition to the official party position.”
Furthermore, it adds, “Maybe polarisation is an inevitability and the need of the hour.” Analysts say that it is democracy that is being derailed, and defection season may not end soon.