The Karnataka failure underlines a limitation of the BJP that is easy to overlook in its much-hyped reputation of turning defeat into victories in successive states, including Goa (2017), Manipur (2017) and Meghalaya (2018). That is, that while the BJP finds it easy to woo over small parties, its vaunted political machinery often comes up short when it comes to engineering defections from Opposition ranks.
The first example of this was Bihar, February 2015. The BJP had tried to tap into the growing mistrust between JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar and his chosen chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. With Manjhi publicly voicing his displeasure over Nitish’s attempts to muscle flex and run the government by proxy, the BJP had courted him unabashedly, with party leaders in the state and Centre speaking out in Manjhi’s favour.
An emboldened Manjhi had defied Nitish when asked to step down as CM — ignoring what was believed to be a tacit arrangement between them — banking on the BJP’s 87 MLAs in the then Assembly. An aghast Nitish had to parade his 97 MLAs before the governor. Later, Manjhi had pushed for a confidence motion in the Assembly, again counting on the BJP. However, he had to resign as, by the day of the trust vote, not enough JD(U) MLAs had crossed over to add up to a majority with the BJP’s 87. Nitish had returned as CM and Manjhi had joined the BJP-led NDA within weeks. He has since parted ways with the BJP.
The second instance was Uttarakhand, May 2016. The BJP had tried to bring down Congress CM Harish Rawat, hoping to cash in on the opposition to him within his party, with the Centre imposing President’s rule in the state. However, the order had been quashed by the Uttarakhand High Court, and in the floor test ordered by the Supreme Court in May 2016, Rawat had survived as the BJP couldn’t get additional defections to bring his government down.
In the third and perhaps the most embarrassing instance, the BJP’s attempt to poach enough Gujarat Congress MLAs to deny a Rajya Sabha seat to senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel in August 2017 had come a cropper.
The BJP had put its entire might, party president Amit Shah down, into that one seat, but the Congress had eventually emerged victorious by rallying its flock and sending them to a resort in Bengaluru. Shah had sat well past midnight at a counting centre in the state capital, while top BJP leaders had petitioned the Election Commission in Delhi, but had failed to stop Patel.