Horse trading Indian style, at expensive resorts

At the stroke of midnight, on November 22/23, Indian democracy took a bizarre turn.

Published: 01st December 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st December 2019 10:30 AM   |  A+A-

Maharashtra NCP MLAs moved to another hotel in Mumbai.

Maharashtra NCP MLAs moved to another hotel in Mumbai. (Photo | ANI twitter)

At the stroke of midnight, on November 22/23, Indian democracy took a bizarre turn. In one night, a faction of the NCP defected, phone calls were exchanged between Delhi and Mumbai, the President signed a proclamation, and by 5.47 am, President’s rule was revoked. Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as CM by 8 am. The Prime Minister revoked President’s rule without prior Cabinet approval by invoking a rarely used provision to “meet a situation of extreme urgency or unforeseen contingency”. No explanation has been given about the nature of the extreme urgency. The last time such dramatic events took place was on the night of August 14/15, 1947.

The Supreme Court ordered a floor test for the 27th. Ajit Pawar promptly resigned as Deputy CM, followed by Devendra Fadnavis. He was CM for three days. Corruption cases against Ajit Pawar had been withdrawn as soon as he was sworn in. Earlier Fadnavis had promised to put him in jail. Meanwhile, the Opposition parties had taken their entire flock of MLAs to an expensive resort. They don’t trust their own MLAs. How then can we expect the voters to trust them? How can we expect good governance? We have not even had a functioning government in Maharashtra and in Karnataka in the recent past due to political defections. Time will tell how a Shiv Sena-led government functions with NCP and Congress support, neither of whom are ideologically aligned to it.

Horse trading is not new, and since the 1980s as MPs and MLAs changed parties, political alliances came together and broke up, sworn enemies became temporary friends in power and vice versa. There have been demands for further tightening the anti-defection law to prevent horse trading as happened recently in Karnataka and Goa.

We need to look beyond the technicalities and grasp the spirit. In Sanskrit we say, “Dhana moolam idam jagat”. However, in Indian politics today, money and power are twins, and are the root of our political world. Money begets power, and power begets money. The ruling party today has gathered close to 90 percent of all donations. When MPs and MLAs and political leaders can be bought, then whichever party has the maximum money has an advantage. How then can we get democracy and good governance? Horse trading is not Ram Rajya.

All this shows India in a poor light. We need political party finances to be fully transparent and we need to ensure they function democratically. Not one does so now. Before elections votes are sought for one alliance and after the results the very basis is overturned. The Governor’s role has become openly partisan. Matters repeatedly end up in court. We need to re-examine the role and powers of a Governor. All extraordinary decisions need to be publicly explained with all the facts. Legal and structural remedies are no doubt needed, but in the long run, the last word is with the voter. When they reject politics of money and power, things will improve. Mahatma Gandhi said, “In true democracy every man is taught to think for himself.” Many will have to rise above political partisanship and think of the voter and the nation to achieve this task.

trilochan@iimb.ac.in
(*Association for Democratic Reforms)

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