It’s back to the season of ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ politics

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As the election to the five state assemblies draws near, the pace of political activities naturally has become turbocharged. Not that rallies or road shows are happening, neither are posters and banners flooding the streets. The movement is of politicians shifting alliances in search of pastures that they believe can fetch them the necessary greens.

The proverbial ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ is here again, and no matter what the law says, or what the sentiment and goal of the law is, the crossovers continue.

It is not common to see politicians who have been ministers for full five years suddenly decide to exit their parent party and join the rivals. In recent days, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Punjab — three of the five states going to the polls — has this drama unfolding almost daily. It must surely have made the voters sit up and ponder.

In Goa, political defections continue unabated. At least nine MLAs resigned their seats in the state assembly to join other parties. A Minister in Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s cabinet, Michael Lobo, switched over to the Congress, which is said to have promised tickets to him (Lobo), his wife and some of his associates.

Senior Goa Congress leader and former MLA Victor Gonsalves left the party to join Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. The reason for his resignation is said to be the induction of Lobo into the Congress. However, Gonsalves has himself been party-hopping, from the Congress to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to Goa Forward Party (GFP) in 2017, to the Congress in 2020, before settling in Trinamool.

Uttar Pradesh is considered to be one of the toughest political territories in the country, where political equations and affiliations are dominated by caste and religion. And the state has its own share of ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ stories. At least 20 leaders, including ministers, have jumped ship so far.

Just ahead of the election, Swami Prasad Maurya, a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government, announced his resignation on Twitter and joined the Samajwadi Party. After serving his complete five-year term as minister, he accused the BJP of neglecting Dalits, OBCs and farmers.

Maurya had switched over to the BJP from the Bahujan Samaj Party, months ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections, accusing Mayawati of corruption. Before joining the BSP in 1996, he had a stint in the Janata Dal. Soon after Maurya’s resignation from the BJP, two more ministers — Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharam Singh Saini — followed in his footsteps.

Saini was with the BSP before joining the BJP in 2016 and now has moved to SP with Maurya. Chauhan started with the BSP in 1996, then went to SP and got elected as a Rajya Sabha MP, returned to the BSP ahead of 2009 general elections and was appointed leader of the BSP parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha, switched to the BJP in 2015, and now has again moved on.

As the exodus continued, the BJP was also inducting ‘other’ leaders — SP’s Hariom Yadav and Dharampal Singh, and Naresh Saini of the Congress, for instance.

In Punjab, too, politicians are hopping around from one party to another in search of better deals. The Congress’ Dalit face and former minister Joginder Singh Mann resigned and joined AAP after accusing the party of “patronising the tainted and giving space to opportunists”.

Six days after joining the BJP, MLA Balwinder Laddi rejoined the Congress on January 2. It is being said that he returned after being assured of a party ticket in the assembly elections.

Harjot Kamal, Congress MLA from Moga, was said to be unhappy after his seat was given to actor Sonu Sood’s sister Malvika, just weeks ahead of the state elections. A “humiliated” Kamal joined the BJP on Saturday. Congress MLA Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa, brother of senior party leader and MP Partap Bajwa, also switched sides, fearing he may lose the candidature this time.

In Uttarakhand, AAP leader Ravindra Jugran quit the party and rejoined the ruling BJP, saying it was like a homecoming for him. He had earlier been in BJP for 25 years, but had joined AAP a year ago.

Former Uttarakhand Congress president Kishore Upadhyay was reported to have met some BJP leaders because he is said to be unhappy with Harish Rawat spearheading the party’s election campaign. Upadhyay was removed from all party posts on the charge of committing ‘anti-party activities’.

Similar examples of jumping ships can be multiplied. The ‘Aaya Rams Gaya Rams’ may evoke awkward responses, but the fact is that they are a striking feature in the political space. Some may dismiss them as being disgustingly opportunistic, others may even regard them as loyalty shifts dictated by legitimate political reasons.

The fact is that ‘Aya Rams Gaya Rams’ continue to exist even in 2022, a good 55 years after an independent MLA, Gaya Lal, from Haryana in 1967 switched two parties in a day and three in 15 days — joined the Congress, then the United Front, and finally, back to the Congress to become a part of the new government.

According to contemporary news reports, Congress leader Rao Birender Singh addressed a press conference in Chandigarh with Gaya Lal by his side. Birender Singh told the media: “Gaya Ram ab Aaya Ram hai.” A few days later, the then Union Home Minister, Yashwantrao Chavan, used the phrase ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ in Parliament as he took a jibe at Gaya Lal.

In June 1979, Bhajan Lal formed the Janata Party government in Haryana. However, when Indira Gandhi won the Lok Sabha elections in 1980, he joined the Congress along with all his MLAs. This is also regarded as one of the worst instances of ‘Aaya Aam Gaya Ram’ politics.

The Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985 introduced the anti-defection law to stop the jumping jacks from ditching their mother parties. A Constitution Amendment Bill that included the Tenth Schedule to enact the anti-defection law was passed.

An MLA or MP who switches parties can avoid the anti-defection law, only if one-third of the party legislators also resign; otherwise he or she would stand disqualified.

Although ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ politics has become uncommon after the anti-defection law came into force, it keeps surfacing every now and then. The phrase is an idiom that became popular in the late 1960s, but has a deep political history laced with suspicion.

The openness on social media and the unparalleled access to all sorts of information today gives an advantage to the people and it is this that the turncoats, the ‘Aaya Rams Gaya Rams’, need to fear.

(Deepika Bhan can be reached at deepika.b@ians.in)

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