Power Play in Maharashtra: ‘Operation Lotus’ in Progress

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'Operation Lotus' is statecraft designed by the BJP to topple the elected governments by wooing the ruling party’s MLAs, poaching them, buying them, and locking them in hideouts, and resorts, till the government in power falls.

Syed Ali Mujtaba | Clarion India


THE Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra is in crisis. Its senior leader and Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde has run away with more than 30 MLAs to Guwahati, putting a demand to the party to disassociate with the Congress and the NCP and align with the BJP. The developing situation in Maharashtra has given the saffron party a strong chance to form a government, even though it was in opposition.


After the 2019 elections, the Shiv Sena allied with Congress and NCP to form a government in the state. The BJP put spokes luring the NCP head Sharad Pawar’s nephew and strongman Ajit Pawar to their side appointing him as deputy chief minister. However, clever political maneuvering by the NCP supremo stemmed the tide of other MLAs from defection. Now again, questions are being asked, as to whether the BJP is using similar tactics to topple the Shiv Sena government and install its own government in Maharashtra. Such surgical strike is decoded as ‘Operation Lotus.’


‘Operation Lotus’ refers to the BJP’s strategy for gaining power in states where it lacked enough seats to form a government on its own. This is an exclusively designed statecraft by the BJP where while sitting in opposition, it topples the elected government by wooing the ruling party’s MLAs, poaching them, buying them, locking them in hideouts, and resorts, till the government in power falls.


The toppling of elected governments was on a decline ever since the anti-defection law was implemented as it required two-thirds of MLAs to switch sides for a legal defection; otherwise the defecting MLAs would be disqualified. But the BJP found a way to it as now the MLAs don’t have to defect, they can resign. By-polls are held and the BJP wins.  This kind of political mechanisation has become a common practice in India since the BJP has come to power in 2014.


In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress government was toppled on March 20, 2020 when the Kamal Nath ministry plunged into crisis as 22 Congress legislators, including six ministers, tendered their resignations after senior Congress politician Jyotiraditya Scindia announced his resignation.


In Karnataka, the coalition government led by HD Kumaraswamy was overthrown after the resignation of 16 Congress and one JD(S) MLA on July 23, 2019.

 
In the Goa elections on February 22, with 17 seats Congress was the single-largest party while the BJP had just 13. But still, it was able to gain power as it won over the Goa Forward Party which switched sides after campaigning alongside the Congress throughout the elections.


In the year 2016, the BJP was successful in forming a government in Arunachal Pradesh even though it had only ’11’ MLAs in a 60-member assembly. A BJP government was installed after 33, out of 43 Peoples’ Party of Arunachal (PPA) MLAs, led by Chief Minister Pema Khandu, joined the saffron party. With the majority of 44 MLAs, BJP formed its own government in the state.


The same year, Uttarakhand experienced its worst political crisis when the Congress party’s MLAs revolted against its own chief minister, Harish Rawat. Congress accused the BJP of orchestrating defections inside their party to destabilise a democratically elected government.


In Rajasthan in July 2020, Sachin Pilot, who was upset about being denied the Chief Ministership in 2018, staged a rebellion when 19 Congress MLAs stayed away from legislative party meetings defying the orders of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Gehlot had put his MLAs in hotels till the crisis blew over and he won the vote of confidence.


In a similar way, the BJP has toppled as many as eight elected governments and formed its government even though it had no majority and now it’s doing the same in Maharashtra.

 
The modus operandi of the operation lotus is simple. If the Opposition party wins the state election, the BJP will not accept the defeat and sit idle. It swings into action to woo the ruling party’s MLAs and offer them a hefty price and several incentives to rebel. This way, the BJP is successful in breaking away many disgruntled MLAs.  They are marked and targeted and bought over with offers of cash and kind. First, the government is toppled, and then the BJP installs its government with utter disregard for democratic norms or public mandate.  


Since the BJP has come to power in 2014, elections have become ornamental in India.  Elections are only there for the purpose of giving legitimacy to the democratic norms. We the people of India actually have no choice as in the end the BJP will form the government either by hook or by crook.


When people are voting for the non-BJP parties, and are successful in installing such a government, they never realise that the BJP can upset their choice by masterminding the poaching of the MLAs. The BJP will influence some ruling party’s MLAs by offering them loads of currency and a ministerial berth. And that’s how the BJP converts its electoral defeat into a victory. This is ‘Operation Lotus.’


This statecraft is finely developed by the BJP since it came to power in 2014. By doing so the party has made a mockery of democracy and the voters have no role to play in challenging such unethical political practices. The BJP rule has rendered elections in India meaningless. The voters too have sensed their game-plan and view elections as an opportunity to make money.


This is BJP’s gambit is to undermine democracy and make the elections irrelevant. It has developed a mastery over such statecraft where elections have become redundant because even if it loses, it’s going to install its government somewhere down the line. The BJP’s domination over all independent and constitutional institutions ensures the party wins even when people are unwilling to accept such a government.

 
This assault on democracy is going on unabated in the BJP rule. As far as the BJP’s image is concerned, it doesn’t have to worry as long as the “Godi media” is there to make the wrong look right. The media will invariably extol such unethical acts and side with the government’s unscrupulous tactics, abandoning the democratic forces.


A Sweden-based institute has said that India is no longer an ‘electoral democracy’. It has classified India as an ‘electoral autocracy. The V-Dem Institute observed that India was on the verge of losing its status as a democracy and says “world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy.  


The report concludes: “These developments are among the instances contributing India to the descent into electoral authoritarianism in what used to be the world’s largest democracy.”

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@waquarahmed123gmail-com

‘Operation Lotus’ refers to the BJP’s strategy for gaining power in states where it lacked enough seats to form a government.
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