Poaching spree has helped BJP lead perception battle 

Poaching spree has helped BJP lead perception battle 

If fighting and winning elections is substantially about generating the right optics or the perception of winnability, then the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have tripped up a gamut of Opposition parties at this game.

If fighting and winning elections is substantially about generating the right optics or the perception of winnability, then the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have tripped up a gamut of Opposition parties at this game.

One after another, leaders from different political parties have joined the Saffron party over the last few weeks. While a major chunk of those joining the BJP is from the Congress, – which reached its nadir of 44 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections – the ruling party has ensured that it has leaders of all hues to showcase before the 2019 polls. The BJP, it would appear, is keen to be seen as a key challenger not just to the Congress at the Centre, but even to regional parties in all the states.

Incensed over the BJP’s poaching spree, Congress chief spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala, had quipped: “BJP is really promoting Swacch Bharat as the powerful detergent party -- ziddi mail saaf.” The dig was aimed at the BJP for not shying even from leaders with criminal cases against them.

Reaping a bounty

In last few days, leaders from the Congresss, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Trinamool Congress (TMC), and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) have joined the BJP, to name just the most prominent parties. Every induction was turned into a media event and the impact was also there to be seen. When Tom Vadakkan, who served as an All India Congress Committee (AICC) media secretary for years, crossed over to the BJP on March 14, 2019, it made jaws drop. Both the print and the electronic media reported the event in great detail, highlighting that Vadakkan, a Christian face and a close aide of former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s, had joined the BJP at a time when the BJP was trying hard to make its presence felt in the last Left citadel, Kerala.

It was a similar story with Baijayant Jay Panda, a once-promising face of Naveen Patnaik’s BJD. He joined the BJP on March 4, 2019, almost a year after quitting the Odisha party, following a prolonged stand off with Patnaik. BJP treats Panda as a prize catch ahead of the polls. It hopes the induction will give more momentum to the BJP, which had surprised many by winning a large number of seats in the 2017 panchayat elections in Odisha.

Spotting talent

The BJP’s strategy since it came to power in May 2014 has been to make quick gains in regions where it has a minuscule presence. It has sought to do this by tapping potential rebels or leaders under some sort of pressure and then putting them to quick use. Like in Assam, where the ambitious Himanta Biswa Sarma of the Congress waited for long that the party high-command would recognize his ambition and replace the then chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, with him. 

The BJP spotted his talent as an ace strategist and inducted him into the party in 2015. The move produced quick results. The BJP came to power for the first time in Assam in less than a year (in 2016) and Sarma is still delivering results to the BJP in other North Eastern states as the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance. Sarma, called the BJP’s 100% strike rate man, is also credited with having played a major role in the BJP’s victory in the Left bastion of Tripura in 2018, bringing to end the 25-year-long uninterrupted stint of Left rule.

Much before four-time MLA from TMC, Arjun Singh, joined the BJP on March 14, 2019, in Delhi, the BJP had captured Mamata Banerjee’s man friday—Mukul Roy. Regarded as the chief strategist of the TMC, Roy was in legal trouble over Narada sting case and Sharada chit fund cases. He was also feeling marginalised within the party after the rise of party chief Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee. He jumped ship to the BJP at a function in Delhi back in 2017. With Mukul Roy, a number of his supporters joined BJP. Roy was also seen on the BJP dais when Arjun Singh joined the party.

Works both ways

But desertions are not a one-way street, although the BJP has inducted more than lost. Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister and BJP veteran BC Khanduri’s son, Manish Khanduri, joined the Congress on March 16, 2019. Sitting BJP MP from Allahabad (Prayagraj) also joined Samajwadi Party after being denied a ticket. BJP MP from Tezpur in Assam, RP Sarmah, also resigned from the party. Insiders say he is about to join Congress. In Madhya Pradesh, veteran BJP leader Ramkrishna Kusmaria joined the Congress in February 2019 three months after another BJP veteran, Sartjan Singh, had switched over to Congress. Both said they were “ignored” by the BJP.

The reactions of leaders who cross over bear similarities – they slam their previous parties and find virtues in their new abode. Mukul Roy, after joining the BJP, hailed it as a “secular force”, while Tom Vadakkan sang paeans of BJP chief, Amit Shah, and found fault with the Congress' stand on the Pulwama terror attack.

The list of defectors may be long, but the conclusion is short. In politics, these days, no bedfellows are too strange. It's peak election season, after all.