Beware, Poachers! Brisk Business to Save Legislators From Themselves
They are adults, they have fought elections, they hold important positions, they demand to be treated with respect, they have good perks paid for by the tax payers of India, they legislate for the people of India - and yet they cannot trust themselves, or for that matter be trusted. Hence they are packed off to resorts at the first signs of poaching, kept under voluntary lock and key, with political party managers charged with counting heads almost every minute of the day. The absence of one or two heads at any point generates panic, and a manhunt for the missing legislator.
Yes, these are legislators who contest elections on one party ticket, and then lured probably by promises of power and as their critics insist - lucre, decide to change sides. And thereby political parties, while trying to form governments, or as in Karnataka currently save governments, take them away to luxurious resorts and keep them there until the dust settles. In that they are sure that they have prevented the legislators from being ‘poached’ (like wild animals are) and can return to safer pastures, like their homes in the home states.
The entire drama, each and every time, reflects acute political distrust. Of the Governors, the Chief Ministers, the ruling party, the opposition, and above all the legislators in the same party. So they are whisked away like primary schools kids to resorts, where they are not allowed to meet or talk to anyone.
One of the first instances that set the trend of resort politics was as far back as 1982, where Devi Lal had emerged in Haryana with his Indian National Lok Dal to effectively challenge the Congress in Haryana. He was in alliance with the BJP in the state, and furious with the then Governor for his decision to invite the Congress to form the government. In fact Devi Lal hit the headlines at the time for grabbing the Governor by his neck. He then took the 48 legislators, including those from the BJP, to a hotel in Delhi and stayed there to ensure that the Congress would not able to poach on his turf, to prove a majority in the House. There was some amusement when one of the MLAs slithered down a water pipe to join the Congress. There was no anti-defection law then, and the Congress of course proved its majority soon after.
This resort politics has been resorted (pun intended) to by leaders of all colours --Telugu Desam under NT Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh in 1983, and subsequently the BJP, the Congress,the Rashtriya Janata Dal all over the country to prevent their legislators from being poached. It has worked often, as in Bihar in 2000 where the Congress and RJD kept their legislators confined in a hotel in Patna to prevent poaching by Nitish Kumar. Kumar did form the government, that fell after about a week when he failed to win the trust vote. Or in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 when the then Governor Romesh Bhandari dismissed the Kalyan Singh government and a Congress chief minister was appointed. The BJP confined its members at a resort, and brought them back for the floor test that had Kalyan Singh back in power.
2019 has given the Karnataka Congress legislators two holidays in resorts already. The year began with the party rushing 70 odd MLAs to a resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru to prevent the BJP from luring them away from the coalition government with the Janata Dal Secular in the state. They were kept there for a few days, with reports suggesting a brawl between two legislators inside the resort where one of them had to be hospitalised. Show cause notices were also served to four MLAs who had stayed away from the resort and not attended the legislature party meeting held there. Another MLA was quoted in the media as protesting about “being treated like cattle” and herded together at the resort as if they were not responsible persons.
However, this might be the only protest, and that too made anonymously, of its kind. As through the last thirty and more decades, legislators are pretty willing to be transported to resorts, kept under guard in one sense, looked after by the concerned political party managers while the leadership works out the modalities of survival.
Just like today where the rebel legislators in Karnataka have gone away to a resort in Mumbai. The BJP has said it has nothing to do with this, against Congress-JD(S) charges that it is poaching on their turf. Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is huddled in meetings with the Congress party state bosses, with all Ministers now resigning in what is being perceived as a move to clear the way for a new allocation of portfolios. In which the rebels could be accommodated. However, that might be as it is but for now at least ten of them are enjoying the hospitality of luxury in Mumbai, away from the temptations of Karnataka.
Interestingly the Mumbai resort has become quite a favourite with political parties seeking to save themselves from defections. As have resorts in Bengaluru and Kerala as politics moves from the sublime to the ridiculous.