Ever since Ravan’s brother Vibhishan switched sides before the Ramayan war, poaching from the enemy’s family has been a perennial feature of politics from the Cold War to Indian politics.
History suggests that such defections hardly bring any lasting gain beyond an initial flutter and short-lived bragging rights, but the trend continues.
When Amritsar businessman Daljeet Singh Kohli joined the BJP on Friday, he gained his 15 minutes of fame by waking the country to the realisation that their Prime Minister had a brother. A gloating Narendra Modi hugged Manmohan Singh’s half-brother to declare his entry would “further strengthen” the party.
But within a day, the BJP claim of netting a prize catch has met with scorn.
The BJP claims Manmohan has weakened the UPA, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, “yet somehow we are to believe that his unknown brother will strengthen BJP. Mind-boggling logic at work here!”
Manmohan, in his understated style, made a brief statement of regret — “I feel very sad. I have no control. They are all adults” — and his party betrayed no sense of loss at what finance minister P. Chidambaram dubbed a “non-event”.
“He (Daljeet) was not in politics and hence we can presume the BJP has gained one vote with this coup,” the Congress’s Punjab minder, Shakeel Ahmed, joked.
Defections can bring one possible gain, though. They may bolster a perception that one side is in such a state of disarray that it leaves all flanks open for the opposition to walk away with whatever it wants.
Against this, Congress leaders are asking why the BJP is “so desperate” if indeed a Modi wave is sweeping the country.
Digvijaya Singh tweeted: “Modi/BJP’s shopping list — PM’s relations, non-BJP politicians and whoever is for sale. Desperadoes!”
Little is known about Daljeet’s ties with his illustrious half-brother except that he had campaigned for the Congress at street corners in 2009. When Manmohan’s mother Amrit died, his father Gurmukh Singh Kohli married Krishna Kaur and had two sons with her, Daljeet and Surjeet. Apparently, the two branches of the family seldom meet.
Surjeet’s son Mandeep has alleged that Daljeet struck a deal with the BJP against a consideration. But Daljeet claimed he was disgusted at the way the Congress had treated Manmohan.
He denied any deal and claimed he had never exploited his relation with the Prime Minister these past 10 years. “Have you seen me make any deal in Amritsar?” he said.
A retired journalist, Surinder Arora, said Daljeet’s defection would have little impact in a Punjab swept by strong anti-incumbency sentiments. “But Daljeet’s move lends credence to Sanjaya Baru’s (claim in his) book that Manmohan was not treated with honour by the Gandhi family. So, it may have some impact on voters outside Punjab.”
The Punjab Congress says it is more concerned with defections by political activists, such as former Patiala mayor Vishnu Sharma, and claims its district and block leaders are being persuaded, coerced or lured into switching sides.
Tit for tat
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla too had crossed over in February with a salvo at Modi, but the Congress defends this as a change of heart by a mature politician who has been an MP and a Madhya Pradesh minister.
In what may be seen as a tit for tat, the party today got the 63-year-old to campaign against BJP president and Lucknow candidate Rajnath Singh, who has been invoking the Vajpayee legacy on the veteran’s former turf.
Rajnath tried to hit back by meeting Congress veteran N.D. Tiwari — a four-time chief minister, governor and Union minister — and seeking his blessings.
“There’s no Modi wave in the country. Modi is too arrogant a leader,” Shukla, a contestant in her home state of Chhattisgarh, said. “Under Rajnath, all BJP seniors like L.K. Advani were shown the door. The party is being controlled by corrupt, manipulating and inept leaders.”
One of Rajnath’s objectives in meeting Tiwari could be to build a bridge with Lucknow’s two lakh Brahmin voters as well as its two lakh migrants from Tiwari’s home state, Uttarakhand. The other would surely be to needle the Congress and try to impress the electorate.
Any voter who is abreast of Tiwari’s scandal-hit stint at the Andhra Pradesh Raj Bhavan and more recent developments associated with him would, however, hesitate to attach much significance to the meeting.
Sources said Tiwari, 88, has been forgetful and moody. The veteran, who last month publicly acknowledged Rohit Shekhar as his son after a six-year paternity suit, on Tuesday failed to send his lawyers to Delhi High Court to hear the court accept Rohit’s claim.
Earlier, soon after the general election was announced, Tiwari was seen with Mulayam Singh Yadav, offering support to the Samajwadi Party. Next, in Haldwani and Nainital, sources said, he was heard contemplating whether to become a Congress nominee or “allow” Rohit to contest.
Tiwari then said he would meet Sonia Gandhi and seek her directions but was denied an appointment.
Tiwari has apparently developed a craving for public meetings and functions. His personal staff have found a way to deal with this, the sources said.
Every time the veteran suggests attending a public event in Dehradun, his staff summon a car, drive him around and then tell him the “event” has been called off. A crestfallen Tiwari suspects nothing.
Defections, though, don’t come any bigger than that by Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, who denounced her father’s rule and became a naturalised American citizen in 1967.
She later returned to the Soviet Union in 1984 and again went back to America. Her decision had little political impact, though.
The Cold War witnessed a competition between the Soviet Union and the West to claim trophy defectors. The defections were usually set in motion during “cultural exchange” programmes or sporting events such as the Olympics.
The prominent Eastern Bloc defectors ranged from the physicist George Gamow and composer Maxim Shostakovich to tennis star Martina Navratilova, chess grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi and gymnast Nadia Komaneci.
From the other side, former US Marine Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, returned in 1962 and assassinated President John F. Kennedy the following year.