New Delhi: Days after a vertical split in the Shiv Sena propelled BJP to power in Maharashtra, the Congress in neighboring Goa received a rude shock after some of its MLAs briefly went incommunicado and were said to be in touch with the saffron camp. Though Congress insiders believe a split has been averted for the time being, the leadership is convinced that ‘Operation Lotus’ in Goa is not over yet.
Incidentally, the BJP is in a majority in Goa, and the Congress has just 11 seats in the 40-member House. However, those who have observed the BJP for long will assert that the saffron camp leaves no stone unturned to woo powerful dissenters from other parties – whether in power or not.
The Goa Congress was unprepared for the crisis more so because ‘Operation Lotus’ – a colloquial term coined by the Opposition – has mostly been undertaken in states where the BJP was not in power. Since 2016, the Congress has lost Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra after largescale desertions by opposition MLAs, and survived a scare in Rajasthan.
Let’s have a look at how ‘Operation Lotus’ has played out in the last few years:
Arunachal Pradesh, 2016
In the 2014 assembly elections in Arunachal, the Congress won 42 seats and the BJP 11 in the 60-member House. In 2016, a major political crisis saw a battery of chief ministers taking office one after the other. Then Congress CM Pema Khandu first joined the People’s Party of Arunachal and later BJP with 32 MLAs, helping the saffron camp to come to power. He remains the BJP CM till date.
Goa, 2017 and 2019
The 2017 assembly elections in Goa saw Congress emerge as the single largest party with 17 seats; the BJP won 13. The Grand Old Party looked all set to return to power with the help of Goa Forward Party (3) and NCP (1). However, the GFP switched sides at the last moment after campaigning alongside the Congress throughout the elections. With the help of Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (3) and Independents (3), BJP formed the government in the state. CM Manohar Parrikar died in 2019, and then Speaker Pramod Sawant was appointed in his place. A floor test followed in March.
The Goa assembly had 36 MLAs at the time – Parrikar and BJP MLA Francis D’Souza had died and two Congress MLAs had resigned. The Congress had 14 MLAs, BJP 12, GFP and MGP 3 each and NCP 1; there were 3 Independents. Sawant won the floor test with the support of 20 MLAs after all GFP, MGP and Independent MLAs supported him. Barely four months later, 10 Congress MLAs and 2 MGP MLAs defected to the BJP, cementing Sawant’s position.
The 2018 elections in Karnataka threw up a hung verdict with the BJP emerging as the single largest party in the 224-member House. The BJP won 104 seats, Congress 80, JD-S 37 and Independents 3. The Congress and JD(S) formed a post-poll alliance to come to power and HD Kumaraswamy became the CM.
The next year in July, 17 MLAs (14 from Congress and 3 from JD-S) sought to quit the Assembly, citing differences with the CM and the government. The ruling coalition accused the BJP of engineering the crisis. The Governor ordered a floor test in the truncated House of 208, and the Kumaraswamy government fell. BJP’s Yediyurappa returned as CM with the support of 105 MLAs against the Congress and JD-S combine of 99.
Madhya Pradesh, 2020
Elections in Madhya Pradesh were held in November 2018, with the Congress winning 114 seats in the 230-member assembly – just two short of majority. It formed the government with the help of SP, BSP and Independent MLAs.
A little over a year later, influential Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the party along with 22 legislators. Scindia joined the BJP soon after, while CM Kamal Nath announced his resignation in March 2020 ahead of the Supreme Court-mandated floor test as he did not have the numbers. BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan returned as the CM of Madhya Pradesh.
Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray had allied with traditional rivals Congress and NCP to become the CM after winning the 2019 assembly elections in alliance with BJP. However, midway in his tenure, Uddhav faced a major embarrassment when influential Sena leader Eknath Shinde broke off with around 40 of the 55 party MLAs and joined hands with the BJP in Maharashtra.
When ‘Operation Lotus’ failed
In 2016, Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat of the Congress faced a major revolt by his own MLAs. Rawat was removed and President’s Rule imposed on the state. However, he was reinstated two months later after court intervention. Congress had accused BJP of orchestrating the crisis.
The Shiv Sena joined hands with Congress and NCP following the 2019 assembly elections in Maharashtra, in which BJP had turned out to be the single largest party. But in another twist, the BJP conducted an early morning swearing-in with Devendra Fadnavis as CM and NCP’s Ajit Pawar as his deputy. NCP supremo Sharad Pawar immediately swung into action and avoided a split in the party.
Upon realising that he doesn’t have the required numbers, Fadnavis resigned shortly after the Supreme Court ordered a floor test.
In Rajasthan, influential Congress leader Sachin Pilot was nursing a grudge at being overlooked for the CM’s chair after his party won an emphatic victory in 2018. Things came to a pass in July 2020 when he rebelled along with 18 other Congress MLAs. The Pilot faction stopped attending meetings, while CM Ashok Gehlot put up the other MLAs in hotels fearing poaching by the BJP.
Finally, the central leadership intervened and worked out a truce between the Pilot and Ashok Gehlot facts. Here too, the Congress blamed the BJP for trying to topple the government.