NEW DELHI: The ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' politics of the '80s in India has acquired a whole new meaning these days with rebel lawmakers checking-in to cool-off at luxurious resorts while sending political temperatures soaring outside.
Be it an attempt to topple the government in Maharashtra or keeping the flock of lawmakers together during recently-held Rajya Sabha polls, the new normal is for them to be moved to a luxury hotel or resort which is turned into an impregnable fortress by the party that holds reins of those legislators.
The focus is back on resort politics with a dissident group of Shiv Sena MLAs lead by Eknath Shinde moving into Guwahati's Radisson Blu Hotel, where they are cooling their heels after they were shifted from a hotel in Surat last week, throwing the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena and the MVA government in Maharashtra into an existential crisis.
While over the years on many occasions resort politics has yielded positive results for the rebels, it has also seen its share of failed bids like the 1982 Devi Lal-BJP coalition failing to prevent an MLA from escaping from a hotel where legislators were lodged and also Congress leader Sachin Pilot recently not going the distance to topple the Ashok Gehlot-led government.
Resort politics has also raised questions about ethics. Former Lok Sabha
secretary general P D T Achary points out that this practice is not to be seen in other democracies and asserted that it is the "most ugly" spectacle in a democracy.
Achary also blamed the media for sensationalising resort politics instead of exposing its "ugliness".
"It (resort politics) reflects the weakness of our system, it reflects the immoral and unethical character of our democracy. It is a sign of decadence," he told PTI.
Echoing similar views, political commentator Rasheed Kidwai points out that when the 'Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram' happened, it used to draw flak as it did not have the political and social acceptability, but it was not so now.
"Ethics of politics have gone down at three stages -- the defector does the fool-proof thing as we saw in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the intelligentsia doesn't criticise it and it is seen as a masterstroke by mainstream media, and the people --like in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka -- give a resounding mandate to these things," said Kidwai.
The anatomy of 'resort politics' is also now somewhat defined with the venue being an ultra-luxurious resort or hotel, converted into an impregnable fortress, where lawmakers are often seen playing cricket, cards, ludo and ‘antakshari' to pass time, even as political temperatures soar outside.
Also, most of the politicians are made to switch off their mobile phones to go incommunicado as was the case with Shinde when the Maharashtra political crisis began, and are kept under the watch of hawk-eyed security, making the rebellion to topple a government a one-way street with no U-turns.
Here is a brief overview of some of the incidents of resort politics over the last two decades:
* Maharashtra political crisis, June 2022: The Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government -- comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress – was left teetering after Shinde and the other rebel Sena legislators camped at the Radisson Blu hotel in Gotanagar area of Guwahati after having arrived from Surat by a chartered flight. The fate of the rebellion is still open-ended.
*Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka (Rajya Sabha polls), June 2022: The Congress had in early June shifted its Rajasthan MLAs to the luxury Taj Aravali resort and spa in Udaipur fearing horse-trading by the BJP ahead of the June 10 polls. The BJP also sequestered its MLAs at Devi Ratn hotel in Jaipur's Jamdoli but the party called it a "training camp".
As the race for the seats in the Upper House gathered steam in Haryana, the BJP shifted its MLAs to a resort in Chandigarh, while the Congress shifted its MLAs to Raipur fearing poaching of its legislators. Also, during the Rajya Sabha polls, several other parties such as the JD(S) in Karnataka, had lodged their legislators in luxury hotels.
While the BJP managed to keep its flock together in all states, parties such as the Congress and JD(S) suffered from cross-voting in the polls.
*Rajasthan, July 2020: Sachin Pilot had openly rebelled against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot along with 18 other Congress MLAs. He was then sacked as deputy chief minister and the party's Rajasthan chief. While Pilot and his MLAs were reported to be lodged at hotels in Haryana and Delhi, the MLAs in the Ashok Gehlot camp had moved into the Fairmont hotel in Jaipur on July 13 and were shifted to Jaisalmer's Suryagarh hotel later.
The rebellion finally fizzled out with the Gehlot government winning the trust vote and the Pilot faction agreeing to a truce after the Congress' top leadership promised them reforms in the party's state government and organisation.
*Madhya Pradesh, March 2020: Congress MLAs loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia
rebelled against the party and were lodged at a hotel in Bengaluru. The rebellion began with some Congress MLAs arriving in Bengaluru. The rebels sent their resignations from Bengaluru. The rebellion eventually succeeded as the Kamal Nath government fell and the BJP's Shivraj Singh Chouhan returned to power with the help of Scindia and his loyalists.
*Karnataka, July 2019: The rebel MLAs of the Congress and JD(S) and the BJP legislators played resort politics that involved staying in luxurious hotels on the outskirts of Bengaluru and Mumbai amid what came to be known as 'Operation Lotus' that saw the coalition government led by former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy being ousted. Resort politics was constantly in play after the 2018 assembly polls yielded a fractured mandate in the state with the BJP emerging as the single largest party with 104 seats, but failing to mobilise numbers.
*Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls 2017: Fearing poaching, the Gujarat Congress had huddled its MLAs in a resort in Karnataka's Bidadi in Ramanagar district ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections. Amid the high political drama, the Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat ended with Ahmed Patel, political advisor to Congress President Sonia Gandhi
, retaining his seat from the state.
*Tamil Nadu 2017: The Golden Bay Resort in Koovathur was the venue that hosted more than 100 legislators of the ruling AIADMK supporting party General Secretary V K Sasikala. Their mobile phones were allegedly taken away to stop them from contacting party leader O Paneerselvam, who had resigned as Tamil Nadu
chief minister and revolted against Sasikala. She was jailed in a disproportionate assets case and eventually, Edappadi Palaniswami was elected as the chief minister who later passed the floor test.
*Uttarakhand, 2016: Rebel Congress MLAs were moved first to a hotel in Gurgaon and then to one in Jaipur, ahead of the Assembly floor test of the Harish Rawat-led Congress government. The Congress and BJP accused each other of horse-trading and President's rule was imposed. The Supreme Court upheld the disqualification of the rebel Congress MLAs and barred them from participating in the trust vote in the state assembly. Rawat won the trust vote and returned to power. The Congress then lost the Assembly elections in 2017.
*Maharashtra, June 2002: With the MLAs of Peasants and Workers Party quitting and the Shiv Sena-BJP coalition looking to bring down the NCP-Congress coalition government headed by Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Congress and then the NCP send their MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru. The government survived the bid to topple it.
*Bihar, 2000: When Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) was to face a trust vote, the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal sent their leaders to a hotel in Patna, fearing defection. Kumar resigned before the trust vote.
The term 'Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram', which entered the Indian political lexicon in 1967 after Haryana leader Gaya Lal switched parties thrice within hours, continues to haunt the political parties in the country despite the anti-defection law of 1985. And looking at developments in Maharashtra, it seems that the phenomenon is here to stay.