Shilajit Kar Bhowmik

Lust for power often leads to histrionics of the spiciest order. It prompts an individual to play the game of tergiversations. Ideology takes the back seat. Virtuosity is relegated to a subordinate position. The individual scrounging to be seated on the highest pedestal of a ruler is consumed by this lust. Nothing illustrates this point better than the high-decibel drama being enacted in Maharashtra. The dramatis personae are frequently switching loyalties. To be precise, Shiv Sena was unhesitant in breaking away its alliance with BJP which was clutched for decades. It was inconceivable. However, as aforesaid, lust for power makes a person blind to ideologies. The party was strongly desperate for installation of Udhav Thackeray as CM. Hence, they did not feel reluctant in allying with the Congress; the party which is ideologically antagonistic to them congenitally. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) paid Shiv Sena in the same coin by breaching ties with the Congress and conjoining with the BJP.

It would be in order to note that such dramatics have parallels in history. The plot is not similar. But the essence of the plot turns the wheel of history full circle. Lust for power has led to political instability in various states earlier. However, the story of these states is worthy of mention.

In 1967, Chief Minister Ajoy Mukherjee led a United Front Government in West Bengal. His Bangla Congress was supported by CPI-(M), CPI and many other Leftist parties. It should be intrinsically noted that Mukherjee broke away from the Congress earlier as the party was plagued by factionalism. He aspired for power. And it was denied to him. He led a phalanx of Bangla Congress MLAs. His ascent to power in 1967 heralded an air of optimism which meandered through the fibre of Bengal. However, his party had to put up with a stiff challenge of food crisis which ailed the entire nation at the moment. The crisis was burgeoning. Food Minister Prafulla Chandra Ghosh made several attempts to handle the crisis. But to no avail. This situation was exploited by the CPI-(M) as they vociferously demanded the removal of Ghosh. Matters came to a head as CPI-(M) General Secretary P Sundarayya stated in a press conference held in Darjeeling, "The Food Minister has failed us. He should resign." And thus insult was added to injury.

The CM sensed imminence of his downfall. His frustration was exploited by the Congress as they furtively opened a channel of communication with him. They began to woo him back to the Congress. The West Bengal Legislative Assembly had 280 seats. Congress had 127 MLAs. They reasoned with Mukherjee to return to the party in lieu of a price. To be exact, Congress wanted the return of the CM to the fold along with his Bangla Congress MLAs. That would constitute a clear majority and Mukherjee would continue as CM.

It was decided that on 2nd October, 1967 Mukherjee would step down as CM and the All India Congress Committee (AICC) would withdraw his expulsion. The larger plan was all the 34 Bangla Congress MLAs would be welcomed back into the fold. Mysteriously, Barun Sengupta, a reputed journalist of Anandabazar Patrika got wind of this plan. He had a copy of the CM’s resignation speech as well. As soon as the story was the published, Bengal was taken by a storm.

A meeting was called at Kanai Bhattacharya’s house to resolve the deadlock where all the United Front leaders were present. After a long conclave, it was decided the CPI-(M) would never disturb Mukherjee again. And thus, the CM withdrew his plans to resign. This volte-face sealed the division within the rank and file of the Bangla Congress as Prafulla Chandra Ghosh deserted with 17 MLAs. The Governor Dharam Vir soon received the letters of those 17 turncoats and asked the CM to prove his majority on the floor of the house.

Interestingly, the Governor and CM crossed swords. The former wanted to move the date forward. But the latter stated it was the ministry's prerogative to hold assembly sessions on a date of its will.

The Governor argued, "After listening to them (the 17 deserters), I feel you no longer have a majority in the assembly. Hence you have to prove to me that you have the requisite numbers."

This mild verbal spat was a precursor to the relations between a West Bengal CM and Governor in the years to come.
Ajoy Mukherjee's position was thus, drifted in a state of quandary.

On 21 Nov, he received a missive from the Governor stating that his government has been dismissed in the light of failure to refusal to convene the assembly session and prove its majority.

Interestingly, in the dead of a wintry night, as the people of Bengal were enjoying a nocturnal sleep, a new government led by Prafulla Chandra Ghosh was sworn amidst tight secrecy. The 127-member Congress Legislature Party pledged support to this ministry.

The following day, the United Front held a public meeting against the way in which an elected government was dismissed. The police made it discontinue by resorting to force. The protests continued despite Section 144 being clamped down in Calcutta. Many were arrested. One of them was a neophyte within the Bangla Congress being groomed under Ajoy Mukherjee's tutelage. Years later, he became a towering personality of Indian politics. He was Pranab Mukherjee.

Meanwhile, the assembly was convened to prove Prafulla Ghosh's majority. At the beginning of the session, the Speaker Bijoy Banerjee ruled, "The people seated on the treasury benches when I concluded the last assembly session are not the ones I see here today. There are some strangers on the treasury benches. The old ministers are not there. The ministry has changed while the assembly was not in session. This is completely undemocratic, since the ministry is responsible to the assembly. The ministry cannot be changed outside the assembly."

Thereby, he suspended the proceedings of the assembly indefinitely.
This provoked a kerfuffle. Pandemonium reigned. A paperweight was flung at Prafulla Ghosh, who was protected by other MLAs.

West Bengal was riveted by political instability which led to the imposition of President’s rule. In March 1969, the United Front resumed power with a thumping majority.

Indeed, lust for power leads to unprecedented histrionics.
It was the winter of Feb, 2005. Laloo Yadav finally lost his fiefdom which he stamped on the soul of Bihar for over a decade. His party was able to capture 75 of the 243 assembly seats of Bihar. His rivals; the JD(U) led by Nitish Kumar and BJP secured an altogether 92 seats. However, nobody secured an absolute majority. This phenomenon beckoned political instability in Bihar. A high-voltage drama would be enacted soon. And yes! It did. There was a man holding the key to power. He was Ram Vilas Paswan of Lok Janshakti Party( LJP) who gloated over his success in capturing 25 seats.

Arun Jaitley resolved to muster a majority for the JD(U)-BJP alliance. He dispatched Sarju Rai and Sanjay Jha – key BJP leaders of Bihar – for the purpose. They managed to whisk away two groups of MLAs in separate groups to Jharkhand. One belonged to Paswan’s fold and the other was from the independent fold. Now they had 31 MLAs in their kitty.

Paswan’s fold was lodged in a hotel named “Holy Day Home” on Jharkhand’s Kanke Road. The independent MLAs were lodged in two guest houses – 10th Mile Stone and Hill View Resort – in a forested patch on the road to Jamshedpur. But soon, in the putative Barun Sengupta fashion, the media got wind of their movements. Sensing imminent failure of plans, Rai and Jha moved the MLAs to a farmhouse deep in the jungles of Ghatshila.

However, their plans were scuttled by Laloo as he was able to persuade the central alliance i.e UPA and the pliant Governor Buta Singh to dissolve the assembly and impose President’s rule.

The NDA moved the Supreme Court. Soli Sorabjee argued their case. The Court ultimately pronounced its verdict against the imposition of President’s rule. However, Nitish would no longer head a fractured government. He sought re-election for the sake of clear majority. And after much persuasion, BJP comported with his will.

Elections were re-conducted. The NDA sought votes in the name of Nitish. Their efforts bore fruit as the alliance captured a clear majority in Bihar and Nitish Kumar was seated as CM.

But at the same time, it should be remembered the preceding deadlock was not resolved without a showdown.
Indeed, lust for power leads to unprecedented histrionics.

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