‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’, Redux
Hassanpur is a nondescript state constituency in Haryana Vidhan Sabha that has the notoriety of adding a deliciously nimble-footed term in Indian democracy, “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” (literally, Ram comes, Ram goes!).
This sneaky phrase owes it origins to the famous MLA of Hassanpur in 1967, Gaya Lal, who changed his political party three times in a fortnight – from Indian National Congress to United Front, back to Congress and then unbelievably in nine hours, back to United Front! Gaya Lal’s feat did not go unrecognised and Rao Birendra Singh on re-inducting Gaya Lal to Congress yet again immortalised the flighty legislator by announcing to the press, “Gaya Ram was now Aya Ram”.
Interestingly, the current MLA of Hassanpur too faced anti-defection law charges for hopping across to Congress in 2004 – he is the son of Gaya Lal, Udai Bhan! Later, the trio of “Lal’s” in Haryana (Bhajan, Devi, and Bansi) would oversee multiple cases of permutation and combination of legislators to evolve the jokes on government formation to a fine art that would spread its springy practice across the country, across all political parties.
Harsher Anglo-Saxon terms like “turncoats”, “rebels”, and “defectors” lacks the earthy grime of Indian politics that an “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” captures in its assumed gratification-inspired subtext and tonality. This gave birth to resultant practices like herding party MLA’s to an iron-clad hotel/resort or whisking away the flock to an undisclosed location to “decide the future course of action” (read, avoid horse-trading).
On the anointed day of voting for and against a government – the banal and ritualistic pretense of the “debate” following the crucial vote motion is accompanied by tense moments for the respective whips of the political parties who keep shifty-eyes on any potential bolting of a “Gaya Ram” from their stables. Ideological considerations suffer temporary amnesia, as the reward for shifting sides make the legislator and his/her constituency forgive the enthusiastic action and a fatalistic and philosophical reasoning in the form of, “everything is fair in love, war, and politics” is rationalised.
Similar comic-tragedy played out in the recent vote of confidence in the Uttarakhand Assembly where a curious case of “Aya Arya, Gaya Arya” – levelled the score of namesakes for the two competing political blocks. Dissident BJP MLA Bhim Lal Arya joined Harish Rawat’s ranks in the Congress, while Rekha Arya from the Congress joined the BJP.
Rekha Arya had gone “missing” a few days back, however, the Congress did not bat too many eyelids on her resurfacing with the BJP legislators, as her tactical disappearance was presumably accounted for, in the Congress calculus. Unfortunately for the BJP, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court's decision on the disqualification of the nine rebel Congress MLA’s and barred them from participating in the trust vote – a crucial move that could have swung the decision the other way. Interestingly, in 2012 Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly elections when Congress denied Rekha Arya the ticket from Someshwar, she had stood as an Independent candidate, later she joined the BJP.
A few days ahead of bypoll to the three vacant seats in 2014, Rekha Arya again switched over to Congress as she felt let down by the BJP and said, “BJP leaders are again trying to deceive me and give ticket to the brother of BJP MP from Almora or another contestant”, only to do another volte-face yet again, in 2016.
To counter the menace of “jod-tod ki rajniti” (politics of make and break) owing to any dubious considerations - the landmark Tenth schedule (Anti-Defection Act) was included in the Constitution in 1985 by the Rajiv Gandhi government. Only a “defection” by one-third of the elected members of a political party was allowed to be considered a legitimate, “merger” – later, pursuant to the recommendations of the Dinesh Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, the 91st Constitutional Amendment Act, 2003, made the “merger” qualification more stringent with a two-third members of a party required to establish a constitutionally claimable change of heart and vote.
This has reduced the phenomenon of “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’’ considerably, though constitutional technicalities and systemic processes still allow for entrepreneurial swinging of crucial votes in whichever direction the carrot lies for the legislator. The most famous no-confidence motion in Indian Parliament was on April 17, 1999 – the then, BJP government was on the mat after BSP retracted from an earlier commitment to supporting the BJP, but, the most decisive vote was cast by Saifuddin Soz who defied his party, the National Conference and voted against the BJP (former Orissa Chief Minister of BJP, Giridhar Gamang too would vote against) – the incumbent government of India lost by a solitary vote!
By itself, holding a contrarian view and voting against a party position can be a sign of mature, confident and vibrant internal democracy. However, in Indian politics, the reality is that the decision to vote for or against a motion invariably happens at the proverbial last minute and is usually followed by the rebelling legislator’s seamless entry into the opposition party.
Such issueless and transactional party-hopping should be publically discouraged and penalised on both the defecting legislator and the accommodating party – however, there are serving examples of such jumpy legislators “accommodated”, as high as Cabinet Ministers and Chief Ministers by all political parties (the leftist are usually a notable exception). Until such time, the jumping jacks are here to stay and, in a very perverse manner, entertain.
Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd)is former Lieutenant Governorof Andaman and Nicobar Island & Puducherry. The views expressed are strictly personal.