With rebel Congress MLAs owing loyalty to former Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan Sachin Pilot holed up in a resort in Haryana (with an imminent move to another in Karnataka, sources say), resort politics seems to have become a de rigueur feature of Indian political life. The sight of the MLAs being herded and sequestered into various five-star (and lesser star) resorts is becoming unfortunately all too familiar. Pictures of MLAs trying out the gym in these places or watching movies together surface from time to time to assure constituents and family that they are well, but what actually happens when a group of MLAs are bunched together and “together time” enforced?
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In his highly regarded book on the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra entitled “Checkmate: How the BJP Won and Lost Maharashtra” (Penguin, 2020) Sudhir Suryawanshi goes into major details on just how the Congress MLAs, sequestered (ironically in Jaipur) spent their time. Apart from a daily roll call to ensure that the head count remained the same and there were no dropouts, MLAs were every day asked about their political stance by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) observer staying on with them. Soon enough, writes Suryawanshi, MLAs broke into various “clubs within clubs” as he calls it.
For example, industrialists and well off like Amit Deshmukh, Rohidas Daji Patil from Dhule, Ruturaj Patil and Vishwajeet Kadam hung around each other and discussed matters that interested them while another group was of the 16 MLAs elected from Vidarbha, who kept to their own company. There were of course discerning drinkers who too kept to each other but one MLA walked out of the resort at the end of the sojourn far happier than others – a Congress MLA who ran a Bridge Club in his room and played for high stakes to the point where those who played with him had to borrow money to play further. Many missed home food and raised protests, like MLA Hemant Khoskar who had a hankering for Pitala (also called Jhunka in Marathi) and with the right YouTube video got a five-star chef in Jaipur to prepare it for him.
Community living never voluntary
The community living is never voluntary and is enforced when poaching of MLAs is feared. Even those not in danger of being poached are often herded with those of whom floor crossing is feared, just to keep the esprit de corps alive. When Congress MLAs from Karnataka got into a bus right after the Assembly elections of 2018, a senior Congressman who had been a Minister in the Siddaramaiah government also had to go along “just to ensure there was no discrimination in terms of perception”.
“I was told I had to go as my not going would send the message that I was somehow more trustworthy and others were not,” he said.
When recalcitrant MLAs were extracted from bolt holes, current Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar ensured they ate a meal with other MLAs before walking into the Vidhan Soudha for former Chief Minister Kumaraswamy’s trust vote, the weight of collective censure would ensure people toed the line.
Keeping MLAs together is a combination of salubrious resorts in States with a friendly government, communication and a daily psy ops against parties attempts to raid your numbers. Parties have geared up suitably, it seems.