A political upheaval appears to be in the making in Rajasthan. The ruling Congress has accused the opposition BJP of trying to unsettle the Ashok Gehlot government. The BJP State President has denied the allegations, and said the accusation was an outcome of an internal tussle in the Congress and an attempt by Mr. Gehlot to spruce himself up as a battle hero. The Congress has 107 MLAs in the 200-strong State Assembly, and the support of at least a dozen independent MLAs. The BJP has 76. The Congress and the BJP both are snarled up in internal tussles. State Congress chief and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot always believed that the top post was unfairly denied to him when the party won the State in 2018; Mr. Gehlot has the support of more party MLAs and wants Mr. Pilot to wait for his turn. In the BJP, the current central leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah do not share much common ground with Vasundhara Raje, the former CM. The BJP has turned up the heat in the State by fielding a second candidate for elections to three Rajya Sabha seats on June 19 of which it can win only one with its current strength. The BJP has used Rajya Sabha elections to engineer defections from other parties in other States, and its second candidate is more than just political signalling.
The recent history of the BJP’s behaviour in comparable situations does not inspire confidence in its claim that it has no plans to usurp power in Rajasthan through engineered defections. Within the last year the BJP wrested power in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, States that it did not win in elections, through a now familiar pattern of engineering resignations of MLAs. The only reasonable explanation for such mass resignations of legislators is that they were either lured or threatened. Earlier, the BJP gate-crashed its way to power in Goa and Manipur, through questionable means. Every party has its share of disenchantment within its ranks, but using that as a facade to dismantle a popular mandate is not in the spirit of democracy. The upending of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, in March, was an ugly humiliation of democracy. If the BJP has plans to traverse the same path in Rajasthan, it would be a clear statement of its priorities for a second time in three months. Political instability contributed to Madhya Pradesh’s chaotic response to the pandemic. Rajasthan is badly affected. The State’s response has been reasonably robust so far but political uncertainty at this moment could spin the pandemic out of control. There is no good to time to seize power through unethical means, but this is a particularly inopportune moment.