Resort politics has become a new normal in Indian politics. However, many were stunned to see how Congress MLAs in Gujarat were shifted to various resorts in the state when the mortality rate due to coronavirus was as high as 6 percent in Gujarat. Now, we have another state joining the league, and that is Rajasthan!
All this is playing out in the context of the Rajya Sabha elections, which are due on June 19. Gujarat will have elections for 4 seats, and Rajasthan for 3.
Gujarat and Rajasthan, both are ruled by different parties, however, what is common in both the states, is the vulnerability of the Congress MLAs to shift sides. This reflects the dominance of the BJP, the hopelessness Congress legislators find themselves in, and the BJPs approach of giving it all in everyday battles of Indian Politics.
Resort Politics 1.0
Like every other phenomenon of Indian politics, resort politics has its roots in the era of Congress dominance. In 1982, when the INLD (Indian National Lok Dal) posed a challenge to the Congress, in the Haryana assembly elections and had the support of 48 MLAs, the Governor gave the first opportunity to Congress to form the government. Devilal was then forced to shift his MLAs to a resort to prevent horse-trading. However, his attempt failed and Congress formed the government as few MLAs escaped the resort.
This was later replicated in other states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, and Karnataka, which later became the epicentre of resort politics.
In 2019, the resort politics of Karnataka, resulted in the fall of INC-JD(S) (Indian National Congress- Janta Dal-Secular)government when 10 out of 13 rebel INC-JD(S) MLAs were shifted to a luxury hotel in Mumbai. Similarly, in March 2020, just before the nationwide lockdown was announced, 22 congress MLAs from Madhya Pradesh were taken to Karnataka, leading to a political turmoil that ended up in the formation of the BJP government under Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Although this practice has its roots in the Congress era, recent events have revived it with new vigour by expanding its scope to an unmatched level.
Resort politics 2.0
Resort politics 2.0 coincides with the rise of BJP and is also a product of its politics. What differentiates it from its previous version is its everydayness. Earlier, it was mostly a the post-election phenomenon, witnessed only when a fractured mandate party tried to keep its flock together, or when serious attempts were made at toppling the government by a senior leader of the ruling party. Like in the case of Gujarat under Shankarsinh Vaghela, and in Andhra Pradesh under Chandrababu Naidu. Parties resorted to resort politics only when there were concerns related to government formation or to prevent the existing government from getting toppled.
Rajya Sabha elections were fiercely contested at the state level, as a normal political affair. However, it did not attract the kind of attention it does today.
In the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat, to win a seat, the candidate will require 37 first preference votes. By ensuring defection of 8 Congress MLAs, since March, the BJP has snatched 1 Rajya Sabha seat from the Congress, taking Congress's tally to 65.
BJP under Amit Shah and Narendra Modi fights every election with the same rigor. Even the corona crisis could not deter the machine from doing what it does. This keeps the leadership at every level on its toes, ready for every battle. It gives its cadre the confidence that even if they are not in the power, the tide might turn. Resort politics 2.0 is one such attempt. The party was down in Gujarat, the government was unable to control the COVID crises, and suddenly 8 Congress MLAs resigned. It's only a matter of 1 Rajya Sabha seat, but it ends up rejuvenating the entire organisation of BJP.
The way forward for the opposition
Reasons for BJP resorting to this are very different from the reasons behind such attempts by INC. By virtue of being in power for most periods, the INC leadership is used to a certain way of politics. It gets into the election mode just days before the election. On the other hand, BJP is always at it. To be seen in the battlefield fighting, now the opposition needs to get its game right.
To tackle this, INC will first have to listen to its state-level leaders, and its MLAs. Unlike BJP whose MLAs and MPs win their election because of Modi’s charisma to some extent, INC MLAs win elections because of their own networks and capabilities. They don't have a Modi, so INC should respect them, listen to them.
Secondly, it is necessary for the leadership to convey that these times shall pass and that the BJP isn't invincible. During the COVID crisis, Rahul Gandhi had the opportunity to interact with his party workers, inspire them to work on the ground, establish their presence, but he missed it.
In UP, Priyanka Gandhi made headlines for a few days, but it was yet another uncoordinated ad-hoc attempt.
Now INC should learn to keep its cadre running like BJP. Congress won 77 seats in Gujarat elections of 2017, and it was largely argued that the party did a good job. However, 2 years later, its tally is reduced to 65 and now the state unit faces a leadership vacuum, with its organisation in ruins.
Bihar will go through elections in a few months now. The opposition had the golden opportunity to get in touch with the voters, in a more constructive way. However, it did not happen.
In the long run, to consolidate its position as an influential challenger to the BJP, cultivating democratic leadership at every level of the organisation is the only answer. Lockdown is not the only answer in dealing with the coronavirus, similarly, resort politics is not the answer to stop defections and congress should understand this.
Facing the expansionist tendencies of the BJP is indeed an uphill task, the least opposition could do is to convince its leaders that there is light beyond the tunnel.
(Writers are political consultants and former employees of I-PAC.)