In Karnataka, the time is right for what has officially been christened “resort politics”. This is usually the kind of politics where you have failed to win a majority in an election but hope to form government with some crucial allies. Your biggest political rival, which may have emerged as the single largest party and also wants to form government, is hungry for numbers too. So you bundle off the allies, maybe even your own defection-prone party legislators, to a cushy resort somewhere –
having taken care to dispossess them of their mobile phones. As they loll under the palms or take in the fresh mountain air, you hope they will not notice they are being held captive till it is time for the swearing in.
On Tuesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party looked set to win a majority in Karnataka but stopped short at 104, just eight seats short of the halfway mark. Meanwhile, the Congress, which notched up a modest 78, moved with unexpected alacrity to declare support for the Janata Dal (Secular), which had 37 seats. A hasty alliance was forged.
Naturally, the BJP was not going to take it lying down. Both the alliance and the BJP have met the governor, staking claim to government. HD Kumaraswamy, making a determined bid for the chief minister’s post, also alleged that JD(S) legislators were offered Rs 100 crore each by the BJP. Only on Wednesday morning, there were rumours that five legislators from the alliance camp had gone missing in addition to whispers that their Lingayat legislatorsare wistfully eyeing the BJP. With both the Congress and JD(S) growing wary that their legislators may be poached, the resorts begin to look inviting.
Karnataka itself played host to legislators from Gujarat last year. In July, Congress legislators were shipped to a resort near Bengaluru for a “relaxing stay” as the state geared up for Rajya Sabha elections. It now appears that Congress and JD(S) legislators are heading back to the same place and rooms have already been booked.
But they may need to be squirrelled out of the state if they are to be kept away from the BJP. Already, there have been kind offers and expressions of interest from other states. If Congress and JD(S) leaders are looking for a quick getaway this election season, there are several destinations they could consider.
First, there is Kerala, the last remaining bastion of the Left. The state boasts a healthy number of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakhas but the BJP has not managed to gain a foothold in Kerala, which alternates between coalitions led by the Congress and the Left. This year, the BJP decimated the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Tripura and victorious supporters celebrated by knocking down a statue of Lenin statue. So the Left might seek poetic justice in sheltering Congress and JD(S) rivals, scotching the BJP’s hopes of coming to power in a large state. On social media, Kerala Tourism has already asked Karnataka to consider God’s Own Country. Legislators could calm their nerves with ayurvedic cures while enjoying an excellent beef fry.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also rued on social media that he did not own a resort near Bengaluru. But why go to Karnataka when you can host them in lovely Srinagar? The ruling coalition, consisting of the People’s Democratic Party and the BJP, would be nicely riled up and the state’s tourism industry could use the business. The only problem is that the legislators risk running into the prime minister, who is due to visit the state on May 19.
Then there is West Bengal, whose chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who had encouraged the Congress and the JD(S) to tie up in the first place. If she really sees the Karnataka elections as a step towards building opposition unity before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the chief minister needs to do more than provide verbal encouragement. May we suggest Mandarmani, a very competent seaside town that offers a nice selection of crab? The traffic on the Bengal highways and the terrible road conditions would ensure that the BJP takes a while to find the holidaying legislators.
Other suggestions include Punjab, which is currently ruled by the Congress and would put a healthy distance between the legislators and the intrigue in Bengaluru. There is also Andhra Pradesh, an excellent choice since Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and his Telugu Desam Party recently snapped ties with the National Democratic Alliance, allegedly because regional demands were repeatedly ignored and Naidu was not consulted on decisions at the Centre. Though Naidu has maintained a stony silence on the Karnataka results, hell hath no fury like a rival scorned.
Given such a choice of places, it is disappointing that the Karnataka alliance should pick the same old resort, even if it does have rolling greens and a large swimming pool. Granted, transportation is easier and the legislators can be herded back for the swearing-in ceremony at short notice.
But this is where the Congress shows its lack of imagination. Why choose a local resort when you could treat your flock to a proper holiday, keeping them happy and building opposition unity across states, tackling Karnataka 2018 and Lok Sabha 2019 at the same time?