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Gujarat turmoil shows ‘resort politics’ is here to stay

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-07-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru/Ahmedabad: Far from the floods ravaging their home state, at least 40 Congress legislators from Gujarat have been living in the lap of luxury—services include a swimming pool, gym, spa and exotic buffets—at the 162-acre Eagleton golf resorts outside Bengaluru.

Stung by the recent defection of members of legislative assembly (MLAs) to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections, the Congress in Gujarat is trying to safeguard the renomination of Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, to the Rajya Sabha.

Congress party legislators are now lodged in the resort to keep the poachers at bay.

Housing legislators in one location—mostly a posh resort at a safe distance from all the political action—at the first hint of dissidence before a crucial vote, has become an effective strategy to stem defections, analysts say.

The modus operandi is simple—herd all party MLAs to a resort, confiscate their mobile phones, keep the media out and the legislators busy with luxuries while their senior colleagues grapple with the crisis.

Pioneered by late Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao around 1984, the strategy even has a name, “resort politics”, which has been used by political parties in states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

“Physical separation is the only way to keep legislators from opposition camps,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst and director of Voter Mood Research, an election analysis organization.

Shaktisinh Gohil, senior Congress leader alleged on Sunday that the legislators were forced to flee after the BJP resorted to threats, kidnapping and criminal intimidation against Congress party legislators.

“Democracy is under threat. We are safe here and will continue our fight to safeguard democracy,” he said in Bengaluru. Soon after, the legislators stood up and flashed victory signs for cameras.

Gujarat, however, is not new to this phenomenon.

In September 1995, when BJP came to power in Gujarat with a majority, Keshubhai Patel was preferred as the chief minister over Shankersinh Vaghela. A few months later, Vaghela flew with as many as 48 BJP MLAs to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh then ruled by the Congress. When he returned to Gujarat, he became the CM with Congress support.

Mrug says that this sort of politics will continue as there are no “genuine anti-defection laws”.

Earlier this year, around 100 legislators of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) were lodged at the Golden Bay resort for weeks by party leader V.K.Sasikala to avoid any poaching by the rival camp, sending the state into complete paralysis.

In Karnataka, former tourism minister and mining baron G. Janardhana Reddy whisked away around 20 legislators to force chief minister B.S.Yeddyurappa out in 2011.

Months later, Yeddyurappa himself resorted to this strategy to remove D.V. Sadananda Gowda as chief minister.

Karnataka seems to be the favourite destination for “resort politics”.

In 1994, Rama Rao shipped his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MLAs to Bengaluru after he was replaced by N. Bhaskar Rao of the Congress and asked to prove his majority in the Assembly.

In 2002, the late Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh brought around 70 MLAs to Karnataka.

Mrug says resort politics is unlikely to have any adverse impact on elections when politicians face their constituents as “public memory is short”.

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