Kommineni Srinivasa Rao

The statement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that 40 MLAs from Trinamool Congress of West Bengal kicked up a firestorm last week. Leaders of many parties condemned the statement and tore into PM Modi. Whether he did so to boost the morale of the BJP leaders and workers in West Bengal or to strike some fear in the state’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee‘s heart--no matter what the motive, it must be said that PM Modi‘s statement is unbecoming of a prime minister. There can be no two opinions on the fact that at a time when the anti-defection law is being defied openly and crossing over for political opportunism has become the norm, a Prime Minister speaking in this manner for political gains, is patently wrong. It is also true that no Prime Minister had spoken about defections in such a tone in the past, not that they did not encourage horse-trading.

The Congress party pioneered the system of horse-trading. When Indira Gandhi came to power in 1980, Bhajan Lal, who headed the Janata Party government in Haryana, merged his party with the Congress and continued as chief minister. In 1978, the Congress came to power winning 180 seats in undivided Andhra Pradesh. The Congress (R) won 130 seats while the Janata Party wrested 60 seats. However, after splits and divisions in the Janata Party, only 4-5 legislators were left in its fold, while others crossed over to the Congress. MLAs who won on a Congress (R) ticket joined the Congress and claimed that it was a homecoming for them. The total strength of the Congress rose to over 260 in the assembly.

Things were to take a different turn when NTR dethroned the Congress and came to power in Andhra Pradesh in 1983. The new Chief Minister and founder of TDP put a clear condition that if any legislator chose to join his party, he or she would have to resign their position and come to the TDP fold. Nadendla Bhaskara Rao alone agreed to this condition and joined the TDP while three other MLAs returned to the Congress.

While defections did take place in undivided AP later, they did not have much of an impact on the state’s politics. However, after the bifurcation of the state, defections in Telangana as well as Andhra Pradesh, rose sharply in number. This time around, they were pioneered by none other than the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu himself.

The TDP chief tried to buy a TRS MLA with a few crore rupees during the Telangana MLC elections with the diabolical intention of bringing down the Chandrashekar Rao government. However, a vigilant KCR not only pre-empted the move by Chandrababu Naidu, but also caught TDP MLA Revanth Reddy red-handed. As it turned out, the audio tape with Chandrababu Naidu‘s famous line “manavallu briefed me“ nailed his role as the main character in the entire sordid episode. Fearing perhaps that his government would always be under such threat, KCR then began luring legislators from other parties to the TRS and it was thus that 12 out of 15 TDP MLAs in Telangana switched their loyalties. After his convincing victory in the December 2018 elections, KCR continued with this process and has knocked the Congress party out of reckoning completely by encouraging its MLAs to join the TRS. This time around, the Congress party in Telangana is likely to get merged with the ruling TRS.

In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu faced serious allegations of buying over 23 YSR Congress party MLAs, and drawing them into the TDP. The same Chandrababu had earlier criticised the TRS leadership in Telangana for buying over TDP MLAs like cattle. He faced identical allegations later. It was further said that he fixed a separate rate for each MLA. Chandrababu Naidu made four of the turncoat legislators his cabinet colleagues in AP.

Once again we see Chandrababu Naidu donning a new avatar. He now points a finger at PM Modi for encouraging defections and criticises him in the sharpest of terms. The most curious aspect of the matter is that a few days after the 2014 elections were announced, Chandrababu Naidu personally welcomed the Nandyal MP S.P.Y Reddy who won on a YSR Congress Party ticket into the TDP in AP Bhavan at New Delhi. Soon after, he lured two other MPs into the ruling TDP. The Lok Sabha Speaker remained a silent spectator in spite of complaints in the matter.

The BJP faced allegations of encouraging horse trading in Arunachal Pradesh and Goa. Neither Speaker Kodela Sivaprasada Rao in AP, nor his counterpart, Madhusudhanachary in Telangana, acted firmly against defector MLAs, thereby bringing the office of the Speaker into disrepute.

In contrast, YSR Congress Party President, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy earned a sterling reputation for himself by laying a clear condition that anyone who chooses to join his party must resign from their MLA/MLC position in the previous party. In the process, he emerged as a leader who is committed to value-based politics.

The common criticism against Chandrababu Naidu is that he preaches morals, but practises what he chooses to. He indulges in ambivalence and doublespeak all the time. While PM Narendra Modi cannot be defended on the statement he made, Chandrababu is in no moral position to question PM Modi. KCR, on the other hand, has been going about his business silently. Chandrababu Naidu speaking of democracy day in and day out is becoming unbearable to all, given his background.

If Chandrababu Naidu apologises for what he has done and then criticises PM Modi, there would be a minimal level of acceptance. But, resorting to immoral politics and then preaching values to others makes him a hypocrite politician of the worst kind.

Also Read: Chandrababu’s Legacy: A Bankrupt Andhra Pradesh