Sunil Deshmukh,Sushil Kumar Indora,Laxman Jagtap,Sampat Singh,Tukaram Gadakh,Pradeep Jaiswal. The list seems endless. More has been written about these contestants in the current round of assembly elections than probably at any point of time in their political career. Who are they and why have they attracted so much attention? They are rebels. They form a peculiar tribe: they are not contesting on party platforms that they have been long associated with but are fighting as independents or on tickets of other parties.
Rebellion,the refusal to obey collective decisions of the party,could have different causes; for example,it may not have nominated them (every election has added its share to this category). The question is: are rebels always disgruntled elements or do parties also purposefully create them,especially when there are incentives to rebel?
Most popular explanations for rebellions focus on the internal life of parties as organisations. The logic is simple: the more open and decentralised the nomination and candidate selection process,the more democratic the party is. The less centralised the decision-making,the greater the space for diversity of opinion,the lesser the possibilities of rebellion.
Sunil Deshmukh is a classic example. It was game over for the two-time MLA from Amravati and incumbent Maharashtra minister once the party decided to nominate Rajendra Singh Shekhavat from Amravati. His or the local units views were not sought; fire-fighting began only after he filed his nomination. Sampat Singhs decision to join the Congress in Haryana sends a similar message. Despite being a member of the Janata family for more than 30 years,he claimed that his position was constantly being undermined and there were no leadership positions available in the family-controlled INLD. On almost similar lines,three-time Kolhapur MP Sadashiv Mandlik accused Sharad Pawar of being a dictator when he quit the NCP to contest as an independent in the Lok Sabha elections in May.
Centralised decision-making explains a lot,but not everything. NCP leader Laxman Jagtap,for instance,has been a perennial rebel; he contested the legislative council elections from the Pune local self-government constituency in 2004 despite the Congress-NCP alliance. In this case,the NCP did not withdraw his candidature despite the seat being allocated to the Congress. Today,Jagtap is contesting from Chinchwad,again against a Congress candidate.
Rebels like Jagtap and others like Digvijay Khanvilkar and Anil Tatkare are not rebels of the Sampat Singh,Mandlik or Deshmukh variety. They are running a challenge as independents in constituencies officially allocated to another party in the alliance,and are creations of strategic party behaviour under particular conditions.
So why do we have rebels? One reason is Indias first-past-the-post (FPTP) system,which lets candidates cultivate a personal reputation and a chance of being elected without party support.
(In other systems candidates are more dependent on the party organisation.) In FPTP systems,representatives have very often acted in multifarious capacities to build a personal rapport with their constituency in order to ensure re-election.
Parties have also encouraged this to a certain extent. Deshmukh for instance was also guardian minister for Amravati district; this meant he could invest heavily in his constituency and is thus credited with changing the face of the district. Once a personal rapport has been established,party labels matter less,entire local units often moving with the candidate.
Second,the incentive to rebel is greater when candidates believe that in the post-election scenario their tribe would be in demand. This of course depends a great deal on the nature of party competition. Haryana presents a sharp contrast to Maharashtra. While numerous Congress rebels in Haryana withdrew their names before the last date,there are,in sharp contrast,more than 100 estimated rebels from different parties in the fray in Maharashtra. This is based on the expectation that post-election there will be no space for others in Haryana as compared to Maharashtra.
Third,how rebels have been dealt with in the past counts. In Maharashtra,in the 1995 assembly elections,more than 40 elected independents had past links with the Congress. The Congress not only took their help in the legislative assembly but in subsequent elections many of them returned to the party. It has also been the practice to co-opt independents as associate members and then gradually absorb them. Given these traditions,rebels know that they can get away lightly if they win.
Finally,there is not only competition between alliances,but also within alliances. Parties have often unofficially supported rebels to undercut allies and increase their own bargaining power post-elections. The NCP wants to snip the big-brother attitude the Congress adopted post-Lok Sabha elections.
To sum up,in a competitive multi-party system,the strategic interests of political parties could encourage rebels and all rebels are not discontented elements unhappy with the working of the party.
The writer is with the department of Political Science,Punjab University,Chandigarh