Home / Politics / Policy /  On a roll, BJP becomes favourite of defectors

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s wins in the April-May Lok Sabha election and three of the four state assembly elections since then has made it the favourite destination of political defectors keen to fight the upcoming Delhi elections under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In a round of political musical chairs, the run-up to polls in the national capital has been marked by politicians moving from one party to another. They include Shazia Ilmi and Vinod Kumar Binny of the Aam Aadmi Party, or AAP (Binny was earlier expelled by AAP), Krishna Tirath of Congress and the political debut of Kiran Bedi—all four have joined the BJP.

Political experts feel while the BJP is the “flavour of the week", owing to its winnability factor, this is part of a bigger strategy where branding and reach-out overrides the traditional means of politics even as it runs the risk of making the stream of Anna Hazare-led anti-graft movement look opportunistic.

“In desperate situations, either a politician waits and fights for a vision for oneself or moves to the winning party. BJP is the principal political party now, it is in power, it is the flavour of the week and people would be more happy there," Shiv Vishwanathan, a New Delhi-based sociologist and a professor at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy in Haryana, said. The BJP, he added, could see a bigger migration in days to come.

AAP has borne the brunt of these defections. Three of AAP’s prominent legislators, who were elected in the December 2013 elections, have defected to the BJP, their complaints ranging from lack of internal democracy and the “autocratic" nature of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal to the party, making false promises and giving over-importance to protests and demonstrations. These three are: Ilmi, who used to be AAP’s media face; former speaker of Delhi legislative assembly M.S. Dhir and Binny, who was expelled by AAP on 26 January 2014 for “publicly making false statements against the party and its leadership" and bringing “disrepute" to it.

Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst said: “I see it as a strategy of the BJP to score brownie points over the AAP. While it does not dilute the image or the unique edge that AAP has, what it does is makes the whole stream of India Against Corruption (IAC) look very opportunistic."

IAC was the bigger grouping formed under veteran social activist Hazare, who led a series of anti-corruption agitation for nearly two years, beginning in 2010, while the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power. Kejriwal and Bedi were two of the main faces of the IAC campaign. Eventually, Hazare and Bedi parted ways with Kejriwal over the issue of him forming a political party.

In what has been seen by some as a major setback to the AAP, on 15 January, former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Bedi joined the BJP and was later named the party’s chief ministerial candidate for Delhi. While she was never officially associated with the AAP, she has been a close associate of Kejriwal, who was always keen on having her on board.

While most defections are from AAP, which is only a little over two years old, Vishwanathan disagrees it has the potential to dilute the party’s edge. “I do not think AAP is only about anti-corruption, it is more about new politics, the kind of politics the new generation is looking forward to. Those who have the old school idea of politics are defecting," he said.

In the season of political defections, India’s grand old political party, the Congress, has also faced the heat. Its senior leader and former Union minister, Krishna Tirath, joined the BJP last week, allegedly on the issue of denial of a ticket to contest the Delhi elections. The BJP is seeking to gain from the move—Tirath is a Dalit leader—and portray itself as a party that is attracting new as well as veteran political leaders.

While Vishwanathan feels inducting “one or two" Dalit faces will not help the BJP gain popularity among Dalit voters, Mrug is of the opinion that Tirath’s induction should not be seen as the party trying to shed its upper caste image in the state.

“The BJP does not need to shed its image... In urban areas, it gets votes across the section. By inducting leaders like Tirath, it just wants to show the momentum is in its favour and that it is ahead of others in the league."

The Delhi assembly election is on 7 February and the counting of votes is set for 10 February. The BJP, which was the largest party in the previous assembly election but did not form a government, is locked in a fierce battle with the AAP, which has a popular support base in the city-state.

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