The politics of sequestration

Tight outside the resort at Madh island where Shiv Sena MLAs were been moved on November 10, 2019.

Tight outside the resort at Madh island where Shiv Sena MLAs were been moved on November 10, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Bate


It causes disillusionment with not only elected representatives but with the political system itself

The Shiv Sena’s decision to sequester a majority of its newly elected MLAs along with eight independent supporters in a hotel in Madh Island in northern Mumbai to “protect” them from being poached, presumably by its erstwhile ally, the BJP, is the latest example of the politics of sequestration. The Congress has done the same by shifting its legislators to a resort in Jaipur. This became imperative as several Congress MLAs are keen to join a Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra despite the party high command’s reservations.

This trend can be traced to the ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ phenomenon following the hung elections of 1967 in Haryana. Elected legislators changed their political affiliations with abandon in search of political perks and financial benefits. A law was passed to curb this behaviour but has been largely ineffective. Sequestration has become the current instrument to forcibly prevent such party hopping. In recent years Karnataka has become the prime example of such practice. After the 2018 Assembly elections, all three parties — BJP, Congress and JD(S) — engaged in desperate attempts at political sequestration to keep their respective flocks from going astray. Unfortunately for the Congress-JD(S) coalition, this attempt failed to prevent the government it had cobbled together from eventual collapse.

Power for its own sake

The politics of sequestration symbolises the rot that has come to bedevil the Indian political system. People in all countries enter politics in pursuit of power. However, in mature democracies most politicians do so to attain certain cherished social and political goals. In India most politicians pursue power for its own sake and for the financial and political perks that come with it. Politics has become big business with most politicians spending lavishly, far beyond what electoral laws permit, in order to win elections. They do so to attain social status and gain financial rewards that far exceed the large amounts they spend on campaigns.

Being on the winning side, therefore, becomes the most important goal. Ideology and social objectives are either considered secondary or irrelevant to the pursuit of power. Changing parties in order to further personal gain becomes the rule rather than the exception. This is particularly true of those elected members who are aspirants for ministerial berths but are denied them. Opposing parties are usually willing to entice them with the prospect of ministerial positions if, by changing their party affiliation, they help them to come to power. Therefore, confining MLAs in hotels and resorts, which party “bouncers” prevent them from leaving, is seen as the sole way of enforcing party discipline.

Discipline by coercion may help a party to stay in power or attain office but such victories are often short-lived because of the lack of commitment to party or ideology on the part of the legislators concerned. Similarly, attaining power by enticing political opponents with the offer of offices and perks normally turns out to be a pyrrhic victory. This is the case because today’s ‘Aaya Ram’ can as easily turn into tomorrow’s ‘Gaya Ram’.

Political immorality

Both imposing discipline by coercion and enticement by offering personal gain are recipes for political instability. Furthermore, they inculcate a strong sense of political immorality that is harmful to society in the long run. Above all, they detract from the very basis of democracy by inculcating lack of accountability to the electorate. This is bound to lead to a high degree of voter disillusionment not only with elected representatives but with a political system that peddles itself as democratic. This disillusionment is very dangerous because it inevitably leads to the search for the ‘man on horseback’ who can stem the political rot attributed to democracy. The political class in India must learn this lesson before it is too late.

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University and Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Center for Global Policy, Washington, DC

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 8:43:19 PM |

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