'Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' culture takes centrestage in Bengal

'Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' culture takes centrestage in Bengal ahead of polls

The state's politicians, till the previous decade, ridiculed the culture of switching sides at the drop of a hat

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Credit: PTI Photo

Once a reviled practice in West Bengal, the 'Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' culture of frequently changing political allegiance has taken centrestage in the state ahead of the assembly elections due in April-May next year.

The state's politicians, till the previous decade, ridiculed the culture of switching sides at the drop of a hat.

However, since the TMC's ascendance to power in 2011, lawmakers of the Congress and Left parties joining the ruling party to be a part of the "development process initiated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee" had become a common practice till the other day.

The ruling party, however, is now getting a dose of its own medicine with several of its leaders joining the BJP.

The saffron party has engineered an exodus of TMC leaders, with party heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari and 15 other MLAs and an MP, joining the BJP since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The TMC witnessed the biggest desertion from the party on a single day when Adhikari, a former state minister, along with 34 other leaders, including five MLAs and an MP, joined the BJP during Union Home Minister Amit Shah's rally at Medinipur on Saturday.

In what is being seen as a political retort, the TMC inducted Sujata Mondal Khan, the wife of BJYM state chief and Bishnupur MP Soumitra Khan, from the BJP on Monday.

Bimal Gurung's Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the BJP's ally in Darjeeling hills for over a decade, also switched allegiance and vowed to back the TMC in the forthcoming elections.

A senior TMC leader, on condition of anonymity, said the party should not have pursued the "immoral" 'Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' culture, coined after Haryana legislator Gaya Lal who changed his party thrice within a fortnight in 1967.

"It was wrong on our party to induct so many lawmakers from the Congress and the Left. It was immoral politics on our part and we should have refrained from doing it.

"Sometimes, to increase your support base, you have to take decisions which might affect you in the long run," he said.

Political desertions were rare in West Bengal, where ideological convictions identify politicians.

The first instance of defection can be traced back to 1952 when four Forward Bloc MLAs joined the Congress after the first West Bengal assembly elections. They resigned from their posts, leading to by-elections.

However, the first major defection took place 15 years later in 1967 when Congress leader and former chief minister Prafulla Chandra Ghosh walked out of the Bangla Congress and CPI (M)-led United Front government with 17 MLAs and joined the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF). This led to the collapse of the United Front government.

After the 1970s, however, no major defection or switching of political allegiance took place till 1998, when a section of Congress leaders led by Mamata Banerjee formed the Trinamool Congress.

Between 1998 and 2001, several Congress MLAs who had joined the newly floated TMC obeyed the grand old party's whip inside the Assembly to avoid getting disqualified under the Anti-Defection Law but functioned as TMC leader outside the House.

After 2011, however, the state witnessed massive defections as not only Congress and Left legislators, but even other elected representatives switched allegiance, as a result of which entire opposition-held zilla parishads and municipalities came under the TMC's control.

From 2011-16, 17 Congress MLAs and six Left legislators joined the TMC, while three opposition-held zilla parishads and several municipalities came under its control.

Eighteen Congress MLAs and an MP and four Left MLAs have joined the TMC since 2016.

Barring those resigning from their posts to contest the Lok Sabha elections, other turncoat legislators did not quit their posts.

The trend changed after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which the BJP bagged 18 seats, only four less than the TMC's tally of 22.

Fifteen TMC MLAs, one MP, three CPI (M) and two Congress legislators joined the saffron party. They too did not resign from their posts.

Sources in the TMC and the BJP said that both parties are likely to witness many more defections in the run-up to the elections.

Although the TMC has cried foul over the poaching of its MLAs and branded the turncoats as "traitors", opposition parties and political observers felt that the party was paid back in its own coin.

"The TMC is getting a dose of its own medicine. The way it negated people's verdict and inducted MLAs without making them resign from their posts has come to haunt the party," political analyst Suman Bhattacharya said.

Although a section of TMC leaders agreed, party MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said that no party is free from the malaise of 'Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' culture as it is a "reality" of Indian politics.

He also accused the BJP of threatening TMC MLAs.

"It is a political malaise from which none of the parties in the country is free. So, why single out TMC? But what the BJP is doing in the name of defection is unacceptable. They are threatening and luring our MLAs into their party," he said.

Mocking the TMC over the culture of defection, BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh said the party should be the last to talk about it.

"The TMC should be the last political outfit to talk about defections. In the last 10 years, the TMC has engineered defections of more than 40 MLAs by using both money and muscle power. Was that according to democratic norms? The TMC should first answer it and then lecture us," he said.

Opposition Congress and the Left Front, which have been the biggest casualties of switching of sides since 2011, blamed the TMC for importing the "culture of defections" to the state.

"The TMC has murdered democracy in West Bengal and now they are getting payback. They had thought that by finishing off the Congress and the Left Front through defections, they will be able to rule the state for many more years.

"Before pointing fingers at others, the TMC leadership should look at the mirror," Leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan said.

Senior CPI (M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said the TMC and the BJP are "two sides of a coin" and the saffron party is just following the "undemocratic footsteps" of the ruling party in the state.