Pavan K. Varma | All equal before the lure of lucre is resort dharma theory
I sometimes think it’s time to change the Constitution and add a clause that recognizes and legitimizes the resort policy
After the recent developments in Maharashtra, I sometimes think the time has come to amend the Constitution and add a clause that recognizes and legitimizes the resort policy. The framers of our Constitution created a framework for the functioning of a mature, principled parliamentary democracy. However, it seems that they were terribly myopic. They did not take into account the versatility of Indian politicians, who have so integrated certain aberrations that they have become standard features of the functioning of the largest democracy in the world.
The list of official rights of our MPs must also be changed. It should now include compulsory stay in luxury hotels and travel in exclusive charter planes, whenever it is necessary to overthrow governments or win elections in Rajya Sabha. There was a time when ostentatious displays of wealth, especially by public officials, were frowned upon. Not anymore. In the service of power at all costs, deputies must not only be sequestered but afford all forms of luxury. There are anecdotal stories about what happens at these stations. Every whim of the precious deputies is pampered. No expense is spared. Their loyalty literally has to be bought.
Eknath Shinde, who led the Shiv Sena revolt against Uddhav Thackeray, left on June 21 with his gaggle of rebel lawmakers on a chartered flight to Le Meridian in Surat, Gujarat, where the BJP is in power. After the deputies had duly rested, they left the next day for a Bharat Darshan. Their next charter stop was on the other side of the country, the Radisson Blu Hotel in Guwahati, Assam, which is again a BJP-ruled state. After enjoying five-star comfort here for more than a week, they left on June 29 in luxury airport buses, this time en route on their charter flight to Goa, another BJP-run state. Their address here was the Taj Resort, where 72 rooms were reportedly booked. Finally, they returned to Mumbai, again on a special flight, but only a day before the ground test at the Assembly on July 4. Luxury travel had achieved its goal. Uddhav tendered his resignation. Eknath Shinde was sworn in as Chief Minister. The BJP, as an alliance partner, was back in power. “Democracy” has triumphed. “Ideology” has won.
But resort politics is not just the monopoly of the BJP. In June this year, when Rajya Sabha elections were scheduled in Rajasthan, the ruling Congress party flew 70 of its MPs to a luxury resort in Udaipur. Uddhav Thackeray, a victim of resort politics, did the same for the Rajya Sabha elections in Maharashtra. Its deputies were first cloistered in a seaside resort in the suburb of Malad, then moved to a five-star hotel in south Mumbai. After the March 2022 Assembly elections in Goa, the Congress moved its leadership to a resort town in North Goa. Two years earlier, in Bangalore, Congress leaders were safely lodged at the prestigious Prestige Golf Club. In fact, the resort policy has an old precedent. As early as 1983, Ramakrishna Hegde, then Karnataka’s chief minister, sought to prevent Congress from overthrowing his government by sending 80 of his MPs to a luxury resort in Bangalore.
Some important questions arise. Where does the money for these extremely expensive junkets come from? Who makes the payments? Should our MPs only be accommodated in luxury hotels and resorts? How is the money from these “investments” recovered? Why does the state police provide them with such heavy security at the taxpayer’s expense? It was reported that when the deputies were in Goa, the Goa police went so far as to strictly monitor the Goa-Maharashtra border to screen out anyone who might be an emissary from the Uddhav camp. Besides, what was the use of watching over these worthy chosen ones with so much zeal? Are their ideology and political beliefs so fragile that they need to be somehow quarantined against any inducement offered by the opposing side? Is it the norm today that every MP is up for sale and, given the right price in cash or kind, will gladly switch sides?
What is the role of the ED and IT, and other state agencies, in securing an MP’s allegiance? In the case of rebel MPs Shiv Sena, it was reported that 21 of them had legal cases against them. Were they told that if they teamed up with the BJP the heat would be turned off? It is unclear, but certainly, there are enough instances where opposition politicians facing legal action feel great relief when they switch to the BJP.
And what about the anti-defection law? The governor ordered a ground test within 24 hours after being told the MVA government had lost its majority. The Supreme Court was at the same time considering a request by the vice president to disqualify 16 rebel deputies. Meanwhile, a notice was also pending in the supreme court for the removal of the vice president. The Supreme Court allowed the ground test even as it released the case against the disqualification of rebel Shiv Sena MPs for July 11.
Is there any surprise that the ordinary citizen is completely confused? But what he or she knows is that Indian democracy has become a circus where the money dance continues, and all principles have been thrown to the winds. Only the end is important. The means don’t matter. Even the fig leaf of public probity has been thrown away. Power is the primary goal and must be obtained at all costs. The BJP claimed it was a different party. But it seems that the lure of political power makes even the so-called differences similar. The monetary sauce is the same whether it is goose or gander, with the difference that whoever has the most money spends it more generously. The only beneficiaries of such a dire situation are luxury hotels and resorts. And, charter flight operators.