Maha IPL: Maharashtra govt formation saga brings to light again rampant horse-trading in Indian politics
The Maharashtra assembly election results were declared on 24 October. At the time of the writing of this column, more than a whole month later, a vote to establish who ought really to form the government is awaited.
Stakes in the Indian Political League contests are high.
The eventual champions become anointed saints and their photos adorn government offices everywhere.
They become, effectively, the emperors of modern India, as plum a position as there can be.
Joining the Dots is a weekly column by author and journalist Samrat in which he connects events to ideas, often through analysis, but occasionally through satire
The Maharashtra assembly election results were declared on 24 October. At the time of the writing of this column on 26 November, more than a whole month later, a vote to establish who ought really to form the government is awaited. A government under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP was sworn in in secrecy with orders passed in the middle of the night, but its claims of a majority appear to rest on subterfuge that has been caught out.
The government had been trying its best to delay proving its majority on the floor of the assembly, while trying to shore up its numbers by underhand means. The opposition had been running from hotel to hotel to keep its flock together.
The action has peaked on Constitution Day with the Supreme Court finally ordering a floor test – although further heights are possible in future — so let us have a moment’s silence for our Constitution and those who framed it. They would perhaps have worked in some clauses about the last resort of our democracy, the resort, if they had known that matters would reach this situation.
The reason that the opposition parties were running with their MLAs from one hotel to another is that the MLAs were apparently being approached with offers of humongous bribes of many crores to switch sides. This allegation is so commonplace that no one bats an eyelid on hearing about it. In fact, at least for independent MLAs, it is understood by all that they will sell their votes to the highest bidder. Everyone knows and accepts this.
The tradition is not new. The great Jaspal Bhatti had made a little segment on the buying and selling of MLAs in Flop Show, his hit 1989 TV comedy. It showed Bhatti himself as the merchant of MLAs, assuring politicians that he would buy them the number of reliable MLAs they needed at affordable prices. Those days, the prices were in lowly lakhs. Of course, even onions and potatoes were cheaper then, and you could even buy – and get delivery of — a whole apartment in Mumbai for less than 10 lakh rupees.
Since prices have gone up and the idea of buying and selling MLAs seems to be well established and an accepted part of our popular democratic culture, I would like to suggest that an Indian Political League (IPL) be established with open auctions and biddings. The model of the popular Indian Premier League may be used for this purpose. The names of parties should also be updated to be more in sync with the times. Names like Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress don’t have the ring of more funky names such as Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils.
The opposition paraded its 162 MLAs before the Mumbai media at the Hotel Grand Hyatt on Monday, two days before the scheduled floor test. Therefore, the hotel and the television camera have become the first witnesses of a democratic show of strength, and the first place where the public can see which side appears to be in majority.
Televised auctions followed immediately by voting in hotel ballrooms would thus appear to be the future for Indian democracy. It would bring much-needed transparency into the democratic process. Since the Indian Political League has such great viewership, exclusive coverage rights for events such as secret swearing-in ceremonies could also be auctioned to the highest bidder with the money going to a good cause, such as MLA relief funds for the poor souls who end up on the losing side. After all, their investments, made in purchasing votes from voters and plying them with food and drinks, would be lost. The party leaders themselves would also be much poorer, as would businessmen who bet more on them than on the other side – although successful bettors tend to hedge their bets in close contests by putting some money on both sides.
The winning side would undoubtedly take good care of themselves. They would as usual divide up what is described in the media as “plum portfolios”. What makes a portfolio “plum”? Why, everyone knows. It’s “plum” and juicy if money can be stolen hand over fist from it. Certain portfolios such as irrigation, public works and mines have a reputation for “plumness”. The biggest offices, of course, are naturally plum. They cannot be left out of any deal, and therefore their plumness is assured.
Stakes in the Indian Political League contests are high. The eventual champions become anointed saints and their photos adorn government offices everywhere. They become, effectively, the emperors of modern India, as plum a position as there can be. The losers, or at least some among them, end up in jail. The quest is for monopoly but there’s no “get out of jail free” card in this game.
And what do the spectators and public get? Like the players in this IPL, they get exactly what they have bargained for: bread, circuses and reality TV.
Samrat is an author, journalist and former newspaper editor. He tweets as @mrsamratx
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