On February 13, a day after leaving the Congress, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. For Chavan, it was an end to a longstanding association of around 38 years with the grand old party. Around 1,700 kilometres away from Maharashtra, in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar left the Mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) and returned to the NDA earlier this year. This was Kumar’s sixth jump.

However, Chavan and Kumar are not the only CMs to do this. Data from the Association for Democratic Reforms and The Hindu archives show that a total of 12 Chief Ministers have changed party affiliations so far.

Looking back

Nitish Kumar entered politics by participating in Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement in the 1970s. Later, he became a member of the Janata Dal. In 1994, along with George Fernandes, he formed the Samata party. In 1996, it aligned with the NDA. Later, the party merged into Janata Dal-United. In 2013, Kumar left the NDA apparently after Narendra Modi was named the party’s Prime Minister candidate. He formed a new alliance called Mahagatbandhan with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. Four years later, he returned to NDA. In 2022, he again joined Mahagatbandhan only to leave and rejoin NDA in January 2024. 

Following Kumar’s record is Punjab’s former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who has switched parties five times. Singh, a school friend of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had joined Congress in the 1980s. But in 1984, he quit the Congress party protesting Army action during Operation Blue Star and joined the Shiromani Akali Dal. In 1992, he formed a splinter group, Shiromani Akali Dal (Panthic), which later merged with Congress. Following a split in the Punjab Congress in 2021, Singh floated a new party, Punjab Lok Congress. Later, in 2022, he merged it with the BJP and joined the party, breaking his long-term allegiance with the Congress party. 

Another recent example is of Karnataka’s former CM Jagadeesh Shettar’s. He was a member of the BJP between 1986 and 2023. In 2023, he moved to Congress because he was not given a seat to contest in the Karnataka Assembly elections by the BJP. Much to everyone’s surprise, in nine months, in January 2024, he was back in the BJP. 

Other chief ministers who hopped parties include Goa’s former CM Digambar Kamat, Maharashtra’s former CM Narayan Rane, Odisha’s Giridhar Gamang, Karnataka’s former CM SM Krishna and United Andhra Pradesh’s last, CM Kiran Kumar Reddy. Each of them changed parties three times. Most of the time, CMs have switched parties for a party ticket to contest an election or owing to a power tussle with the other party leaders.

Who gained?

The BJP-led NDA has gained the most out of these defections. Except for Giridhar Gamang, who joined the Congress party in 2014, the rest of the 10 CMs (current and former) defected to the BJP. Chavan’s and Kumar’s defection has been a blow to the Opposition’s INDIA alliance. With general elections around the corner, more party hopping is expected, which could topple governments.