Dawn of a new era: Resort politicsParties are keeping their fickle politicians in resorts to shield them from temptation.
According to George Bernard Shaw, ‘Politics is the last resort for scoundrels.’ When I heard this, I was not entirely sure if it would hold true for Nepal; but the way things are, resorts are literally the last refuge for politicians. On April 27, while browsing through Kantipur for updates on the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, I stumbled upon a piece of unusual news which can be roughly translated as 'Opposition MPs stay at hotel in Gandaki for fear of floor crossing'.
Since April 26, opposition members of the Gandaki Provincial Assembly have been kept in hotels due to concerns that they may cross the floor, that is, switch parties. This followed a no-confidence motion tabled against the incumbent government in the provincial legislature. Although party leaders claim that the step was taken to mitigate the inconvenience caused to lawmakers hailing from rural areas, similar instances from our neighbouring nation cast doubt on the real intentions.
Provincial Assembly members from the Congress and Maoist parties were kept at the Hotel Kuti in Pokhara while Janata Samajwadi Party members were accommodated in another hotel nearby. Among these 29 members who filed the no-confidence motion, 15 belong to the Congress, 12 are Maoists and two are from the Janata Samajwadi Party. They have been assured of support by Rastriya Janmorcha Nepal which has three members in the provincial legislature.
The rise and fall of governments is not a new phenomenon in Nepal. The country has seen 13 different prime ministers in 27 years. But the fact that this new trend of resort politics, which is a departure from the traditional method of horse-trading or preventing it, has now arrived in Nepal from our southern neighbour is something alarming.
Resort politics is a reference to the many instances in Indian politics where members of the legislative assembly are sent to luxury resorts, either to cause or prevent a sudden transfer of power. Furthermore, it is a typical Indian phenomenon where parties unsure about the integrity of their legislators, or overwhelmed with their rivals’ capacity to influence their members, herd their flock far away from the commotion to resorts in order to save them from the perils of materialism.
The inception of this phenomenon was in the era of Congress dominance in India. The aftermath of the 1982 Haryana elections empowered Indian National Lok Dal to challenge the Congress. Indian National Lok Dal was able to win 37 of the 90 seats with its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Additionally, it gathered the support of 11 independents. But since Congress emerged as the largest party, the governor invited the leader of Congress to form the government. Devilal, leader of the Indian National Lok Dal, was then forced to move his legislators to a resort to prevent horse-trading. His attempt failed miserably, and Congress formed the government with the support of some legislators who managed to escape from the resort.
A similar attempt was later repeated in the unified Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, to mention a few. But by the time of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, the tables had turned; it resulted in the fall of the Congress-led government in both states. A tool that was invented to prevent the Congress from forming the government was now being used to topple the Congress government. Although the phenomenon had incepted in the Congress era, its intensity and scope had been maximised by its principal rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Not only was this tool used for the formation and toppling of governments, it was also used in the Rajya Sabha elections to secure preference votes to assure seats which was done in Gujarat in 2020.
The reverberations of resort politics can be felt throughout the nation with various abovementioned states following the Haryana precedent. One should wonder how other provinces in Nepal would react to the Gandaki precedent. Moreover, a rate for allegiance will also be settled in the coming days for legislators willing to switch parties, which raises serious doubts about our system of governance and the governors, that is, politicians. The question is whether a fragile democracy like Nepal will be able to handle this amid a political deadlock at the centre and at a time when political stability was the only steady demand of the people in the elections. Will instances like this erode the faith that the people had in multiparty democracy? Will we see a resurgence of semi-feudal aristocratic systems of the medieval age?
Only time has the answers to these questions, but it would be wise for the ruling classes of the nation to contemplate the implications of this instrument instead of yielding to its limited benefits.