June 8, 2002


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Dilip D'Souza

Whiskers, Whisky, Whisked Away

Out of the blue, there's this political crisis in Maharashtra. And if you had to choose one word that sums it up loudest, that says the most about us in India and the kind of level our politics has sunk to -- if you had to choose just one word, may I suggest this one: "whisked".

As in "Congress MLAs whisked off to Bangalore". Or "Rebel MLAs whisked to health club in Jogeshwari". Or "NCP MLAs whisked off to Indore". All of which, or variations thereof, we have seen as headlines in the last few days. Indeed: to prevent their MLAs from being approached by an opposition desperate to gain office, the two major constituents of this state's coalition government, as desperate to stay in power, have dispatched them to faraway cities.

In turn, the opposition has spirited its newly won MLAs to a posh club in the suburbs. Can't have them switching back, as at least one -- Kolhapur's MLA Vinay Kore -- actually did, claiming that he had been "misled by some people" and had now seen the light. [What light, and how many zeros did it have?] So there they are at the health club, surrounded by heavily whiskered party "activists" who are, in the photographs, significantly burlier and more muscular than average.

Corny enough for you? Wait, this particular circus has endless fascinating sideshows.

Take the three NCP legislators who switched allegiance to the BJP-Sena on Tuesday. Shivajirao Naik, Narayan Pawar and Narsinh Patil felt "slighted" because earlier that day, the chief minister inducted three independent MLAs into the ministry. They told the governor that the CM had "overlooked" the claims of "capable" party MLAs -- like them. Translation: we want the financial capabilities being ministers offers. The BJP-Sena has promised that to us. So we're with them now. Don't know about two hours from now.

At the health club on Friday, a Congress MLA "seemed to attempt to escape" -- whatever that's supposed to mean -- in an autorickshaw. Several burly Shiv Sena "activists" stopped the autorickshaw and foiled the attempt. In doing so, they thrashed the autorickshaw driver. Why the driver? Who knows?

Somewhere in the middle of all this, the state Janata Dal-S party split. All two -- I'm not making this up, two -- members of it. One, Dada Jadhawrao, remains a minister in the government. The other, Gangaram Thakkarwad, waves at the press from the balcony of the Jogeshwari club, surrounded by more "activists" with muscles. What do we have now, I wonder: the JD-S1 and the JD-S2, one member apiece?

Meanwhile, each minister in the government has been "asked to shift at least two MLAs to his official residence for the next week or so". This way, opposition vultures won't be able to get at them to make the juicy offers that have already lured so many. Possible spanner in these particular works: what's to prevent the ministers themselves being lured by the juicy offers? Besides, I'm not sure how this operation fits with MLAs moving hurriedly to Bangalore and Indore.

We ordinary folk -- nobody's whisking us off anywhere -- watch these inspiring events and must come to terms with some truths. This is not about ideology. This is not about policies. This is not about governance. In fact, I feel foolish even applying those words to what's going on around us. This is about numbers and calculations, perks and money, money, money. This is about finding a way, any way, to get into power if you're not; or finding a way to cling to it if you are. More on my side, and I don't care who they are as long as they are MLAs, means less on yours.

These days, those who form governments in our country know that support from an elected representative counts for less than support from a cabbage. It will last until precisely the moment that somebody else offers him a fancier car, a bigger pile of money, or a ministry with greater potential for lucre. For only one thing matters to these men we have voted for: money. They will go, unerringly, to where they smell more of it. So if you would prefer that that aroma not reach them, not tempt them, you have just one option. Whisk them away.

Not a new phenomenon, oh no. For our representatives know the value that being elected immediately puts on their heads, and how it can be exploited. That is, in fact, why they seek to be elected at all. In recent years, increasingly fractured electoral verdicts have only raised that value. These men know well that there's now a fine line between being in power and out, and much money attaches to the simple act of crossing that line. Doing it over and over -- see Kore, Vinay, Kolhapur MLA -- is a simple way to multiply the money. So whether you're Vilasrao or Mayawati, Bhujbal or Rane, Munde or Mulayam, there are powerful reasons to induce elected representatives to cross over to you, while also holding your guys tight so they don't cross away from you.

Where does this leave you and me? Without governance of any kind, that's where. To what should we ascribe lousy roads, indifferent administration, piles of garbage, the continuing reluctance to educate all Indians, among much else: and all this cutting across every party line? To several things, no doubt. But prominent among them must surely be the contempt our reps have for these issues to begin with, caught up as they are in the race to make even more money.

Think of it: does anyone truly believe that a Maharashtra government made up of BJP-Sena types is going to be significantly better, or worse, than one made up of Congress-NCP types? Especially when neither side has a single qualm about luring wafflers who will go calmly where the money is greater? Especially when those very wafflers then preside over ministries that are their reward for the very act of waffling?

Nothing slows down these defecting machinations. Certainly not the law against defection we have in place. No threat of penal action will work either, because politicians are long adept at evading punishment for any crimes at all.

So I think there's only one way to stop the shameless mooching we are watching in Maharashtra: a law that says that if you defect after being elected, or in any way change the political status you had when you ran for office, you automatically lose your seat. Our anti-defection law provides for that, yes, but I would take it further. If you defect after you are elected, you are debarred from contesting an election ever again.

The downside? It will become near impossible to dislodge a non-functioning government, except via elections. This means we will have to tolerate such a government for its full term. Not a pleasant prospect, you think? But look at it this way: how many governments in this country perform satisfactorily anyway?

There is, of course, one major hurdle to putting such a law in place. The guys who will have to do so are themselves elected representatives. Would they willingly throw away their ability to make money by defecting?

Am I nuts or am I nuts?

So maybe we are stuck with whisking and those muscular "activists" with whiskers. Possibly even whisky. Though these days, that classic symbol of ill-gotten gain is small bananas.

Political Crisis in Maharashtra

Dilip D'Souza

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