Bhopal: The startling decision of two BJP MLAs in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday to break rank and vote with the Kamal Nath-led coalition government on a Bill tabled in the State Assembly should ideally put brakes on the BJP’s mad scramble for power in hitherto Congress-ruled States like Karnataka or rustle up a clear majority on its own in Goa by openly welcoming Congress defectors into the party fold.
Not surprisingly, both the defecting MLAs in MP are also former Congressmen who were lured by ex-chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. One of them, Maihar MLA Narayan Tripathi, is a professional defector who has been changing parties like his clothes — from SP to Congress to BJP — without the slightest impact on his electoral fortunes. The other, Sharad Kol, a tribal elected from Beohari (Shahdol), was earlier in the Youth Congress.
What lessons the BJP imbibes from the setback depends on the political wisdom of the central leadership which so far had left the political churning in the three States to the local leadership. In reality, had the national party bosses directed their Karnataka and Goa units to take it easy, the message might have filtered into the ears of the presumptuous leaders in Madhya Pradesh. Threats to pull down the minority Congress regime have been issued from time to time in the last few weeks by loudmouthed satraps. The last issued by State Opposition leader Gopal Bhargava a few hours before the House vote on the Bill was the cockiest: “If No. 1 and 2 (read Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah) give their nod, the Kamal Nath government will fall in 24 hours.”
With barely 113 (barring the Speaker) of the 230 seats, the Kamal Nath regime has been coasting along since its slim win in the 2018 State poll with the help of four independents, and one MLA each of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party. The BJP at 108 is eight short of a majority.
Wednesday was the last day of the State Assembly’s monsoon session. It was business as usual till late afternoon when a legislative leg spinner was delivered by the lone BSP MLA, a Congress ally. The MLA in question asked the Speaker for a division on the passage of the CrPC (MP Amendment Bill) 2019. This, despite BJP’s decision to back the Bill. Which is why no whip was issued. When the result of the vote was flashed on the screen, Congress votes totalled 122 in place of 120, leaving the BJP agape.
Those in the know say the body blow would have been delivered two days ago. Sheila Dikshit’s death compelled the delay. The plan had been in the making for a few weeks. The defecting MLAs had even met Chief Minister Kamal Nath in Delhi to finalise the strategy. As things stand, the BJP will for now just have to suffer the presence of the two MLAs in their midst. Though the MLAs have clearly said that theirs was a case of “ghar wapsi“, they are in no position to formally join the Congress since that would activate the anti-defection provisions.
The BJP, on its part, is in no position to expel them either since that would help them continue as independents. The only course open to the Congress is to make them quit their seats, rejoin the party, and have them re-elected. This is a gambit Kamal Nath just has to take in case he wishes to boost his numbers in the House.
Predictably enough, conspiracy theories were afloat. The needle of suspicion, according to some, pointed to Chouhan who, many feel, knew of the defection plan. Both Tripathi and Kol were given tickets by him despite their uncertain loyalties to the party. Another argument trotted out was that since Kamal Nath and Chouhan were old friends, the latter may have opted to keep his lips sealed on the defection plan of the two MLAs in return for Nath soft-pedalling on the threat to reopen the probe into the Vyapam, e-tendering, and another scam involving the ex-CM’s corrupt adviser and Man Friday. That Chouhan has been out of favour with the powers that be in Delhi and at loggerheads with his own opposition leader is also no secret.
Bottomline: The Nath regime stands more secure — for now.