Bharatiya Janata Party leader BS Yeddyurappa, who on Friday was sworn in as chief minister of Karnataka for the fourth time, was allegedly caught on tape saying some rather controversial things in February.
“We will make 12 people ministers and around six-eight of them will be made chairmen,” Yeddyurappa allegedly said on the tape, speaking to the son of a Member of Legislative Assembly belonging to the Janata Dal (Secular), which was then in power in Karnataka in an alliance with the Congress. “Those who we make ministers, we will help them win elections. We will give them Rs 10 crore each... By tomorrow evening you will see that we will have 12-14 people with us.”
Yeddyurappa was allegedly talking about luring away MLAs from the Congress-JD(S) ruling alliance, which had a thin majority in the state, to the BJP so that the government would fall – and he would have a chance of becoming chief minister again. In February, he fervently denied the allegations, dismissing them as a conspiracy.
Five months later, the JD(S)-Congress government fell after 15 of its MLAs resigned from the House. It is widely expected that some of the 15 who resigned will be accepted into the BJP and given ministries to run.
Sheer coincidence? Or politics as usual?
Party with a difference?
The BJP is not the first party to resort to what the Indian media calls “horse trading” – drawing leaders from rival parties into its fold through enticements, usually alleged to be money or the chance to make some by taking a ministerial post.
But the BJP claimed to be different. It came to power in 2014 promising to end corruption in governance, to unearth black money and to usher in an era of principled politics. The events of the last few days in Karnataka should put to rest any idea about BJP exceptionalism.
Consider the scenes in the Assembly itself. After the 15 MLAs gave their resignations to the Speaker, JD(S)-Congress Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy on Tuesday moved the confidence motion that the BJP had demanded. Yet as the motion was being debated, the BJP remained silent in the face of allegations from the Congress and the JD(S) that the renegade MLAs had been offered enticements to quit.
Congress leader Siddaramaiah alleged that there had been “wholesale trade” of MLAs, who were offered “Rs 20, 25 and 30 crore”. Others also made similar claims, but the BJP remained mum, presumably in order to not delay the trust vote itself and to ensure that its MLAs had no chance of being disqualified by the speaker under any pretext.
These allegations are not without precedent. In addition to the allegations about the existence of the controversial tapes , Caravan magazine reported earlier this year about the discovery of diaries that it claimed belonged to Yeddyurappa detailing payments to a host of people. Moreover, Yeddyurappa is infamous for having carried out Operation Kamala (i.e. Lotus, the election symbol of the BJP) to engineer the defection of Opposition legislators in 2008.
In other words, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah knew what they were getting by putting Yeddyurappa in charge of Karnataka. And Karnataka is hardly the only place that the BJP has relied on these tactics. In July, 10 of the 15 Congress MLAs in Goa switched over to the BJP. Three of them were promptly inducted into the Council of Ministers in the state.
At the start of Modi’s first term, when many politicians moved over to the BJP, they could plausibly claim that they were switching over to a party that could deliver governance better because of their numbers in Parliament. But MLAs switching parties mid-term to immediately be inducted into a Cabinet, without even being re-elected, is evident opportunism.
In many cases the BJP actively campaigned against these candidates, accusing them of everything from lacking principles to corruption.
Take Chandrakant Kavlekar, who was Leader of the Opposition, representing the Congress in the Goan Assembly. Kavlekar was one of the 10 MLAs who switched to the BJP and was promptly rewarded with the Deputy Chief Minister post. This, despite the BJP accusing Kavlekar of being Goa’s Matka King, meaning head of a gambling racket, and the authorities under BJP leadership carrying out an investigation into Kavlekar’s dealings.
Another former Congress leader from Goa, Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate, who is on trial for rape of a minor, land-grabbing and more, was also welcomed into the BJP with his wife being made a minister. The BJP had actually used “Save Goa from Babush” as a slogan during its election campaign.
In these cases it is clear that the opportunism isn’t just on the side of the MLAs. The BJP is also clearly benefiting from more stable governments by engineering what for all purposes are defections, even if it means giving governance responsibilities to people it had bitterly contested.
That the Anti-Defection Law has not been able to prevent this says more about the law and its flaws, than anything else.
This is not the only thing that punctures the BJP’s claims of being cleaner or more principled than other parties. Perhaps the most audacious and egregious of its efforts over the last few years has been to introduce the electoral bond, an instrument that the Modi government claimed would add transparency to political funding, the biggest source of corruption in India.
Instead, what it actually does is make funding even more opaque, while re-jigging the system in such a way that the ruling party derives the largest advantage. This criticism doesn’t just come from the Opposition or analysts, but from the Election Commission of India.
But that is a procedural change, one somewhat harder to grasp amid the constant propaganda from the BJP about being cleaner than every other party. The sight of the BJP openly engaging in horse-trading should make it clear that, at the very least, the party is no less willing than any other to use dubious tactics in pursuit of power.