Resorts as the 1st resort!!!

How many still remember Jaspal Bhatti? If you are from the Doordarshan generation just like I am, you will not have any problem in recalling him. Jaspal Singh Bhatti was the 1st known political satirist on Indian Television. Through his shows Ulta Pulta and Flop show in the 80’s and 90’s, Bhatti took pot shots on what was happening around us in the political scene and we eagerly looked forward to his shows. A clip from one of those shows where Bhatti dons the role of a “Buyer and Seller of MLAs” for political parties who lose MLAs to defection, landed as a WhatsApp forward few days ago. Someone recalled that episode and circulated it to remind us of Bhatti’s foresight looking at what is happening in Karnataka and Goa in the last few days! If Bhatti were to be living amidst us today, I am not sure if he would be proud or feel ironical of his prescience!

In India, what’s happening these days make a mockery of the famed “Anti Defection Bill” which was introduced in the late 80’s by Rajiv Gandhi to put an end to the Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram routine that was common in those times! For some time, one felt that we found an anti-dote to defections once for all. But then, we Indians are reputed to find innovative solutions to any problem. So soon, a loop hole in the Anti Defection law was found and exploited. Which is – the bill only prevented individuals from defecting but did not mind splits and mergers of parties with 1/3rd of members! So Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram has now given way to “Aaya Toli, Gaya Toli”! Or like what is happening in Karnataka, legislators just resign as MLAs bringing down the strength of the house and thereby of the party/front in majority!

What is common among Goa and Karnataka? These are states where the polls threw up a fractured verdict.  No single party got an absolute majority. Even a pre-poll arrangement could not garner majority. A government could be formed only by cobbling up a post-poll alliance! In a democracy, there are inherent problems with such post-poll alliances. The parties don’t face the electorate with such a premise. And when voters cast their votes, they for sure do not expect those who fought bitterly against each other during the campaign to come together as allies and conjure up a government! This is exactly what happened in both Goa and Karnataka!

The tamasha doesn’t end there after the Government is formed, as we have been seeing in Karnataka! Every other day we find the Government on the throes of a crisis of survival. Governance be damned because it is a question of “Return on Investment” (ROI) for many! One group is not complaining though! The resort owners! They don’t have to worry about their ROI! Every now and then a political party suffering from a threat of group defections hordes their MLAs to resorts in other states, usually the friendly ones, to firewall them from offers and counter offers. Horse trading is the term used for this in popular lexicon. Frankly I feel that it is an insult to horses! Another rhyming word though a bit unparliamentary would make a better fit as we are talking about seats and chairs here!

“Resort politics” which was invented originally by Devi Lal of Haryana in the 80’s has now been internalised perfectly by most of the parties. Hotel Viceroy in Hyderabad became a sort of a tourist attraction after Chandrababu Naidu used it to house his MLAs during the infamous coup he staged against N.T.Rama Rao. What does it speak of the MLAs who are supposed to be people’s representatives who allow themselves to be hoarded from one city to another and lodged in resorts?

It is not very difficult to imagine the trade-offs in these situations. In Goa, 3 of those who defected from the Congress have been made ministers with one – Chandrakant Kavlekar, even being made the Deputy CM of the state! Not to forget that he was accused of running shady businesses and land deals not so long ago by BJP! Similarly, the MLAs who have resigned in Karnataka would not have done so without Quid pro quo deals! What does all this say of Democracy? We cannot claim to be one of the world’s largest and best performing democracy by just routinely conducting free and fair elections! Elections are of course important through which, people get to elect their own representatives. However, Democracy I believe, is not just about this aspect. It should also be about deriving desired outcomes from the electoral process! From this point of view I feel our current democratic process is flawed and need serious reforms!

First up, the Anti – Defection law needs a re-look. If a candidate has gone to the voter and obtained votes as “A” party’s candidate he should not be allowed to defect to party “B” after becoming a legislator. Period. Similarly an “Independent” candidate should clearly indicate his allegiance to a front or his true non-allegiance to any front before the elections based on which he should seek votes from people. Once the candidate does that and becomes a legislator he should not be allowed to switch allegiance post the elections. In short, there can be Zero defections once an election is over.

Second, which I have written before as well (Read the post here) is on the veracity of “Post poll alliances” in a democracy. I sincerely feel that the concept of Post poll alliances is actually a fraud being inflicted on the voting public. More often than not, even the so called liberal commentators are fine with governments being formed through post-poll deals under the premise of “Politics is the art of the possible”! I really don’t know in which context Otto Von Bismarck, the German statesman made this statement! But it has been imbibed very well in Indian politics. Under the current circumstances, I would like to make a small change to that philosophy to read as “Politics is the art of the plausible”! Plausibility adds that credibility bit.

If the above are implemented, it will put an end to this tamasha of “Resort politics”! It was George Bernard Shaw who famously said, “Politics is the last resort of the scoundrels!” If he was alive, Jaspal Bhatti in his own inimitable style would have made it sound like – “Resorts are the first resort of politicians”!

Postscript: The term “Horse trading” owes its origin apparently to the notorious shrewdness of Horse traders who are involved in long drawn mostly dis-honest negotiations while buying and selling horses! (Courtesy: TOI)

Image courtesy: Asianetnews

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Karnataka today, India tomorrow !!!

democracy-circus3In this election season, you cannot be blamed for mistaking the title of this post for a war cry of one of the National political parties say the Congress or the BJP. I.e. to capture Karnataka today and India soon after. After all, as Karnataka votes today for its destiny driver for the next 5 years (hopefully), the ball has been set rolling for a string of state elections to follow and then the final Loksabha election mid next year i.e. if the present dispensation lasts its full term. War cry of a party is last of my bother. But, loud cry I keep hearing of the Mango people is.

I cannot but avoid sympathizing with my Karnataka friends as they brave the hot may be not so hot sun and exercise their democratic right today. What is the choice they have?

• Do they again vote and bring back BJP – which made a royal mess of its maiden Southern venture?? 3 Chief Ministers in 5 years, rampant factionalism and infighting, the honour of making “Garden city” a pitiable “Garbage City” today, Corruption charges galore, No governance… have made BJP a party with No difference.

• Do the people of Karnataka repose their faith on Congress – which must take responsibility for the lack of basic infrastructure like roads,… even after ruling the state for more than 50 years since independence? Is there a leader in Congress in the state who can make it happen in the “IT” State?

• Or they throw their weight behind Janata Dal (Secular) helmed by Kumaraswamy Gowda an Ex- Chief Minister himself. If Bangalore is sick and languishing at the bottom of the economic growth table, this secular party has to take fair share of the blame.

• Or finally will the Karnataka praja make my worst nightmare true? Is he actually readying to make Yeddyurappa of Karnataka Janata Party the King or a Kingmaker?

For the citizens, today is a stressful day. The choice they have is to choose the Best among the Worst. As a nation did we opt for democracy to choose the good among the rotten? No wonder there is so much apathy among people today to go and vote. Frankly, if I feel that the candidates in the fray are not worthy of my vote, do I have a choice to express the same?

Though sitting in Mumbai I’m not in a quandary today, I’m worried. Worried because what my Karnataka mates are going through today, many of us have to endure when the time comes to vote for the party/front at the Centre. It looks like “A scam a day may soon keep Dr.Manmohan Singh away”. With an early election looking imminent, the dilemma for the voter gets bigger.

I presume that most fellow Indians have had enough of this Congress led UPA and are craving for a change. For them to satisfy their craving, they need options to vote for in the next General elections. In states where BJP is strong (and that is only 6-7 states I guess) may be they have the option of voting for BJP. But in most of the other states one has to dive into deep-sea to escape from the Congress Devil. In many states where BJP is absent or present in absentia, the people have no choice but to exercise their “Best among the Worst” rule while voting. When they do that, they give fillip by default to parties like the Trinamool Congress, CPI/CPM, YSR Congress, Janata Dal (Secular), Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party,…,…which again start extracting their pound of flesh when the Government formation time comes. Irrespective of the national sentiment for change we may yet get a Government we never wanted. Because under the present system who will rule is decided not by “National mood” but by “Rational Greed” (Money bags, ATM Ministries, Rajya Sabha nominations,…) of the fringe parties who claim to promote the cause of Regional and Sectarian aspirations but in reality have been furthering their own “cases”.

I call this the “Democracy by stealth”. So does this “Democracy by stealth” provide the famous “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”??? I doubt.

Problem definition is always easy. Finding solution is not. Yet, let me attempt. The way forward is certainly to “CHANGE” the present system. That could be in the form of electoral reforms which include

• Clearly defining and identifying National parties which have an influence in more than few states

• Mandating only “National” parties to take part in Lok Sabha elections

• Government formations only based on declared “Pre Poll Alliances” and not by convenient “Post Poll Alignments”

• Election Commission to define a template and minimum criteria for an “Election Manifesto” essentially making the document a “Minimum Agenda for Governance” for the party coming to power.

• Election Manifestos of parties once released during election campaigns must be registered with the Election Commission

• Parties not fulfilling 70% of their manifesto promises should be disqualified from contesting in the next elections. So that there is accountability along with accounts.

Some of the above ideas are indeed outrageous and outside the realm of today’s political imagination. However I strongly feel that small changes may not work. We need paradigm shifts. So that we actually see Democracy at work and not some “Democrazy”!!!