Indian election , defecting BJP?

  • The Congress party is losing rank and file to Narendra Modi’s block as elections near
  • With ideology fading into the background, switching sides seems to be easier than ever

Bipin Das had been with the Indian National Congress (INC) for more than two decades until transferring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) two months ago.

He told DW that the recent redrawing of election constituency borders in the northeast state of Assam had left him with no choice.

“The Congress is never going to come to power here, we are 100% sure,” Das went on to say.

The INC, or Congress, is the main opposition to Narendra Modi’s BJP. However, with the general election beginning on Friday, the party faces an uncertain future and a crisis of trust in its leader, Rahul Gandhi.

Das and many other former INC members now believe they would be better off with Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. Last week, 800 Congress members in Gujarat switched their allegiance to the BJP.

Why are Congress members leaving?


The party’s issues go beyond the grassroots-level — defectors include senior INC members such as the Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, former Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, and the Chief Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma.

There are numerous reasons for these defections. Some saw Modi’s appeal as a charismatic leader, which set him apart from the Congress leadership.

“When people listen to Rahul Gandhi they remember his words for the next 10 minutes,” Das was quoted as saying by DW. “But the way Modi influences people’s minds, the listeners go on to preach on his behalf.”

Others interpreted it as reading the writing on the wall.

“Many Congressmen believe they will not be able to gain power for a long time,” journalist Neerja Chowdhury stated.

Experts believe it will take years for the Congress party to rebuild its ranks and restore importance. Personal objectives or dreams would be put on hold for a long time in the opposition camp, while greater pastures await only across the political line.

New era of ‘no ideology’

An ideological aspect, or lack thereof, also influences the defectors. Chowdhury observes that some politicians have traditionally switched sides ahead of elections.

“But of late we’re seeing is a slightly different phenomenon in addition to this, and that is politics becoming de-ideologized,” she went on to say.

Politicians can now swap alliances more easily since they are no longer constrained by ideology.

A recent example is Gourav Vallabh, a former Congress spokesperson who has joined the BJP. Addressing the media, he stated that he cannot tolerate criticism or harsh discourse about Hindu traditions, which is somewhat unexpected given that Vallabh spent years opposing the BJP’s core ideals.

“Nowadays, there is no ideology,” said Omair Khan, the minority department’s national coordinator.

Gandhi wearing out his welcome

Chowdhury claims that the Congress party’s current state is due to its own acts. Rather than innovating or pursuing new ideas, the party stuck to its conventional approach, continuously relying on the Gandhi family for leadership.

According to Chowdhury, the party might have portrayed Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge as the new face of the Indian opposition. Kharge is a Dalit, a member of a marginalised group, and India “has never had a Dalit Prime Minister,” according to Chowdhury. Promoting Kharge could swing Dalit votes in Congress’ favour.

Instead, the party continues to focus on Rahul Gandhi—the great-grandson of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the grandson of the nation’s first female Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the son of another former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

According to Chowdhury, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership of the Congress party “suits the BJP to the hilt,” since Gandhi may be saying the correct thing. However, he is not viewed as a larger-scale alternative to Modi.

According to the seasoned journalist, the Congress also made the mistake of not giving its youthful leaders a larger role. Many of those young politicians have since joined the BJP, with Scindia serving in Modi’s cabinet.

State pressure to join BJP

Those concerns frequently go away when the targeted individuals opt to join the ruling bloc. According to The Indian Express, 23 out of 25 important opposition lawmakers have had investigations against them shelved or placed on hold since joining the BJP in 2014. Furthermore, an earlier revelation by the same daily found that 95% of those investigated by the ED and CBI belonged to opposing parties.

No response from INC

It appears that Congress does not know how to prevent defections.

“If the Congress knew what to do, it would be doing it,” Chowdhury added.

At the same time, she believes it is critical for the Congress party to function as a check on the ruling party, safeguarding one of the most fundamental values of a democracy.

“For the Congress to lose, to slump, to not be able to revive is not a good thing for India’s democracy,” she went on to say.

Scroll to Top