ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Banality of Defection Politics


In the recent years, political defection of different kinds and the resultant deviation from norms such as “loyalty is not saleable,” “pluralism is to be considered worthy of respect,” and “politics that endorses improvement in the spheres of non-coercion or increasing but reasonable degrees of freedom” have led to the melancholic expression, “we were wrong in supporting, prompting, and protecting these defectors.” Such expressions seem to have been particularly reverberating among the members of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Karnataka, Goa, and, more recently, among the members of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. This raises the most fundamental questions—is the act of defection becoming a new norm for practising politics in India? Why are the norms listed above being regularly undermined? And by whom?

One could offer at least two illustrations which could help us in indicating that the act of defection seems to be acquiring to itself either systemic legitimacy or people’s approval. First, those political parties which seemingly are the beneficiary of defection would defend acts of defection on the grounds that it is vindicated by the fresh electoral mandate that the technically disqualified candidates would receive from the voters. Although the parties at the receiving end of defectors would seek an ethical exoneration, such claims, however, are far from being indubitable. Thus, it would not be unfair to raise the following question: Is the re-election of the defectors possible without the rigging of the voters’ minds? The answer is no. The voters—at least an effective number of them—allow their minds to be rigged by the decision to elect the defectors who jump from one party to another indiscriminately without any regard and respect for the mandate that they got from the voters with a different, perhaps even a progressive, orientation. The case of such a rigging of moral minds was evident in the case of MP and Karnataka where the defectors were elected to a different party with a different ideological orientation.

The second illustration which results from the first is that those voters who re-elect such defectors to the representative institutions of power provide the advantage of legitimacy to the latter on the grounds that the voters—at least a sizeable number of them—have lost the capacity even to repent for the wrong choices that they have been making in re-electing such defectors. These variants of the voters do not seem to utilise the opportunity that is both enabling and ennobling as far as the rectification of the mistake of making wrong choices is concerned. In fact, some voters do repeat their mistakes. In such a context, it is interesting to make a reference to the Shiv Sena, which, however, seems to be confident that its voters will not make this mistake. The possible grounds on which the Shiv Sena voters are expected to defeat the defectors in the ensuing election have a moral component, which does suggest that those who put their hard-earned virtue of loyalty on sale would be punished for the breach of trust. However, some might argue that it would be desirable that the voters under reference would vote for the new candidates who have every reason to stay with the flexible positions that the Shiv Sena has taken as the leading partner of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in support of some kind of pluralism.

However, this is not to suggest that some of the voters commit a mistake due to the lack of capacity to repent and rectify and are thus responsible for banalising politics. The roots of a banal politics, in fact, also reside in the approach that political parties in general seem to have adopted with regards to nominating or supporting the Scheduled Castes (SCs) for the reserved constituencies. It is commonly observed that for supporting or nominating such candidates, mainstream parties do not apply a strict criterion—if not calculation—which in general cases, by and large, is competitive, if not normatively robust, as far as the reserved constituencies are concerned. The indifference of the mainstream parties with regard to the choice of the SC candidates becomes coextensive with the indifference—in fact, in some cases—the utterly callous approach that the SC representatives have adopted towards the general SC question, which is of paramount importance. Those common SCs in whose name political representation has been granted also contribute to the banality of representation on the grounds that they too lack the capacity to regret and rectify the mistake that they commit in choosing and later on by allowing such SC representatives.

Is there a way to save politics from becoming banal? Collective but vigilant acts of nudging politicians as well as common people to protect the dignity of individuals and the decency of public institutions may be considered as legitimate; legitimate as it is ensuring for the common moral good. Hence, those who plan to defect need to decide that their stepping into a party is committed to creating and expanding the sociopolitical spheres that are essentially non-coercive.


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Updated On : 6th Aug, 2022
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