Sequestering politicians in luxury properties to prevent poaching has become routine. That’s dispiriting

It would be all too easy to poke fun at the spiriting away of legislators from three states to plush resorts in the run-up to the Rajya Sabha elections. MLAs from the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and BJP from Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana have been sequestered by their parties in luxury properties to ensure that they are not poached. But the riveting images of leaders enjoying a swim, a leisurely stroll, watching magic shows and participating in antakshari sessions are, actually, deeply disturbing.

Resort politics runs across ideological lines, and seems agnostic to whether a party is in office or in the Opposition. It also keeps recurring. In times of political uncertainty — during government formation in the aftermath of an indecisive electoral verdict or when a party is in danger of losing its majority in the House — MLAs are often secreted away, as they have been, in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, to name the most recent examples. These stealthy moves point to disturbing things. They shine a light on the terrible weaknesses that have become endemic to political parties, the degradation of inner-party processes and structures, and loyalties. Political parties appear not to trust their own leaders. The lure, real or perceived, of inducements from rivals seems to be something that people’s representatives cannot be counted on to resist. In turn, this view of politicians, by their own parties, as ideologically promiscuous and lacking commitment organizationally is also a tacit acknowledgment of the leaderships’ own failures to create and foster a culture within the party that sees politics as more than just a route to the perks of office.

While the crisis of ideology and lack of political loyalty straddles political divides, in the prevailing scenario, parties in the Opposition have much more to lose from it than the ruling BJP. With a commanding majority at the Center and governments in several states, and the prime minister as star campaigner, the saffron juggernaut seems ascendant, defects notwithstanding. The Opposition, on the other hand, has appeared to be in disarray since 2014 and shows of revelry in resorts do not paint a picture of leaders eager to address the sufferings and concerns of citizens. Every defect — even the impression of its imminence, as showcased by the hiding of leaders in resorts — adds to the dismal optics.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on June 9, 2022 under the title ‘The first resort’.

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