Welcome to the Political Fix by Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, a weekly newsletter to help guide you through India’s complex political landscape.
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The Big Story: Jumping ship
Even with the re-election of the Narendra Modi government, one might have thought that the first session of Parliament would have been dominated by policy, since the election months had all the politicking. No such luck.
A lacklustre Budget (as we discussed on the Fix last week) and a legislative agenda that is unchanged from Modi’s first term has meant just more of the same in Parliament. As always, PRS Legislative is keeping an eye on all Parliamentary matters, in case you want more detail.
On the political front, however it has been quite the week.
In Goa, 10 Congress MLAs – of a total of 15 – switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party. This prompted a reshuffle of the Cabinet and the withdrawal of the Goa Forward Party from the ruling alliance.
In West Bengal, BJP leader Mukul Roy claimed that more than 100 MLAs from other parties were in touch with his outfit. At the same time, several councillors who had joined the BJP over the last few months returned to the Trinamool, allowing the party to win back control of two municipalities.
There’s similar action taking place in Maharashtra, and even some news expected from Madhya Pradesh soon.
But the real drama was centred on Karnataka. The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government has been unsteady from the very beginning. A big BJP win in the Lok Sabha elections was always going to destabilise it further.
Perhaps the real surprise here is that the coalition is not dead yet, though a potential trust vote in the Assembly – which may even be moved on Monday – will offer a definitive answer. Over the last week, 16 MLAs from the ruling alliance submitted their resignations to the Speaker. If these are accepted, the alliance will no longer have a majority.
As is now the convention, these rebel MLAs were herded off for safekeeping to a resort in Mumbai, only to be followed by Congress troubleshooter DK Shivakumar, who stood outside the hotel demanding to be let in. (He was soon detained by the police.)
Here is where things now stand. If Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy calls for a trust vote, as he said he would, that should decide the fate of the government. If not, it will depend on whether the speaker accepts the MLA resignations – and whether the courts get involved in that decision. Either way, not many would bet heavily on the Karnataka government being around for much longer.
The BJP’s focus on trying to consolidate its 2019 election gains is clear. But all these moves have prompted talk of whether this is a new era of horse trading, with leaders switching parties (usually to the BJP) willy nilly.
A few points here:
- India has an anti-defection law, which aims to prevent elected representatives from jumping ship to other parties. But it is clearly being easily circumvented. Sruthisagar Yamunan looked at what might be a new tactic in attempting to get around the law.
- Research shows that voters do care about ideology, not just factors like caste or kinship. But the data also suggests that voters are not dissuaded from picking dissidents for the same reason: they’re often voting for the party, not the individual, as Rukmini S writes.
- The BJP is obviously gaining tremendously by putting its stamp on the few places where the Congress still has a presence. But, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, could its willingness to bring in leaders from other parties dismay the homegrown cadre over time?
- If DK Shivakumar somehow manages to ensure that the Congress-Janata Dal (Seculr) government stays alive, will he become the front-runner to be the next Congress president, asks Sugata Srinivasaraju.
Will the Congress and JD(S) government survive? Should it? Write to email@example.com
BL Santosh is the new bridge between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP. He replaces Ramlal, who held the post for 13 years. The RSS-BJP coordination became particularly smooth over the last half-decade, which is why the role remains a crucial one.
Punjab Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned from the state Cabinet. Sidhu doesn’t get along with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who, at the moment at least, seems to have the upper hand.
The government tried to convince Parliament that it wasn’t planning to privatise the Indian railways. Although it is experimenting with private operators running some routes, Railway Minsiter Piyush Goyal said the government will corporatise and seek to partner with private companies.
Will Uttar Pradesh get a strong mob lynching law? The state law commission put together a 128-page report, including a draft bill, to deal with the dangerous social phenomenon. The file now sits on the desk of Chief Minister Adityanath.
The Maharashtra Congress infighting is not over, but Balasaheb Thorat will lead the unit for now. He takes over just months before state elections, with the party leadership squabbling about who is responsible for the Lok Sabha debacle.
Also, go see Member of Parliament Hema Malini attempting to use a broom in a photo-op for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Reports, analysis & opinions
We have lots of commentary on the Congress today.
Start with Roshan Kishore’s excellent analysis of how the party sees its 2019 defeat, and why that appears to be mistaken. Rasheed Kidwai tells us how “Team Rahul Gandhi”, a number of professionals who quit their jobs to work with the Congress president, are now in limbo.
Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab and the leader who reportedly declined to be party president, writes an Op-Ed on what the Congress needs to do (a young leader, more alliances, less of a High Command). Another Congress leader, Ruchi Gupta, has an astute piece on where the party went wrong, pointing out that most leaders look to build bases within the Congress rather than with the public at large.
Also, Manini Chatterjee was not impressed by Rahul Gandhi’s resignation letter.
A few more things:
With India moving to restrict the flow of data, Gautam Adani is trying to position himself as the man with the best storage options. Anurag Kokoty reports on Adani’s plans to enter the data storage market, which Mukesh Ambani is also jumping into.
Raghuram Rajan doesn’t think India should sell bonds in foreign currency. The move, according to the former Reserve governor, offers little benefit and plenty of risk.
The very logic of reservations, to address social and historical backwardness, is in danger. Suhas Palshikar argues that using quotas to solve contemporary economic problems is a deeply problematic move.
Access to the corridors of power for reporters is no favour done to the media by the government. It is an important part of a democractic process, says an Indian Express editorial.
Did we miss any reports or op-eds? Do you like/dislike the Political Fix? should we be doing something different? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.