When all it takes to save House is a hotel

A week to go for the Rajya Sabha elections on June 10, nearly 70 Congress MLAs in Rajasthan are lodged at a resort in Udaipur, some 400 km from the state capital. In Haryana, where it is in a minority and even more divided, the Congress has ferried its MLAs (those it could gather) all the way to Naya Raipur in Chhattisgarh, 1,470 km away from Chandigarh but, importantly, a state ruled by it.

The latest round of this uniquely Indian exercise of ‘resort politics’ has been prompted by the BJP and allies propping up two media barons in Rajasthan and Haryana, thus spoiling the party’s well-laid plans. If Rajasthan has Subhash Chandra of the Zee Group, contesting as an independent backed by the BJP, media firm News X’s owner and former Congress leader Venod Sharma’s son Kartikya Sharma is in the race in Haryana, backed by BJP ally Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) .

The trend of parking legislators in salubrious surroundings, to ensure they are not tempted by ostensibly more gainful lucre, can be traced back at least three decades. A countdown:

Goa, Uttarakhand, March 2022

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Goa and Uttarakhand are being seen as a neck-and-neck fight. Having lost out to the BJP in last-minute manoeuvring to form the government earlier in some states, the Congress decides not to take a chance. In Goa, the Congress leaders move to a resort in North Goa ahead of the results. The party claims they voluntarily did so, for a series of birthday celebrations.

In Uttarakhand too, the thought crosses the party’s mind, with the Congress turning to, among others, its Karnataka old hand DK Shivakumar to be prepared for all eventualities.

The Congress, it turns out, need not have bothered. It’s an easy win for the BJP in both Goa and Uttarakhand.

Rajasthan, June 2020

Come Rajya Sabha polls and fearing poaching, the ruling Congress in Rajasthan decides to herd its MLAs together. The Congress MLAs spend time doing yoga and watching a movie on Mahatma Gandhi at a Jaipur resort, say reports. The BJP, in the opposition here, also has its MLAs together at a resort, claiming this was done to provide them training in and other issues.

The Ruling Congress retains two Rajya Sabha seats whereas the BJP wins one. No cross voting is reported.

Rajasthan, July 2020

The Congress gathers MLAs at Fairmont Hotel in the state, after Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot mounts a rebellion along with 18 MLAs against CM Ashok Gehlot. Pilot’s own men wait out the days – lasting a month – in Delhi and later at a resort in BJP-ruled Haryana. The talk is that Pilot is knocking on the BJP’s doors.

Congress MLAs board a bus and head to Udaipur ahead of the Rajya Sabha Elections, in Jaipur. (PTI)

The rebellion fizzes out, a much-chastened Pilot returns to Congress fold after talks with the Congress high command on August 13.

Madhya Pradesh, March 2020

On March 6, seven Congress MLAs fly out to Prestige Golf Club in BJP-ruled Bengaluru. By March 16, their number has swelled to 21 MLAs. The Congress’ desperate measures to hold its Kamal Nath government with its razor-th majority together fail, and the BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan returns as the CM on March 24.

Maharashtra, November 2019

Falling short to return to power in the state after the Assembly elections, the BJP somehow manages the numbers. But CM Devendra Fadnavis’s second term lasts all of four days, as the Shiv Sena leaves the BJP to walk over to Congress-NCP, in a late-night operation that carried the deft Sharad Pawar touch. For its success, the crucial move is the Shiv Sena huddling its MLAs beyond the BJP’s reach at Hotel Lalit in Mumbai.

On November 25, the day the Supreme Court is to decide on a petition seeking a floor test in the Maharashtra Assembly, the Sena-NCP-Congress delivers a coup, coming together at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Mumbai with 162 MLAs in an Assembly of 288 seats.

Karnataka, July 2019

After 13 resignations from their ranks, ruling allies Congress and JD(S) fall back on hotels again. While the Congress sends 10 to a hotel in Mumbai, where the Maharashtra BJP is said to have made its way to them, the JD(S) guards its flock at a hotel in Bengaluru and, subsequently, Prestige Golf Club (the site of a similar political drama before).

But the efforts are in. The Congress, JD(S) fail to win a trust vote and the BJP’s BS Yediyurappa returns as CM on July 24.

Tamil Nadu, February 2017

AIADMK secretary and Jayalalitha’s on-again, off-again deputy Sasikala and CM O Panneerselvam, also known as OPS, are engaged in a battle over the CM’s post after the death of Jayalalitha. As OPS accuses Sasikala of forcing him to resign as acting CM, Sasikala sends her MLAs to a resort near Chennai – OPS compares it to a “hostage” situation, even as rumours swirl that the whereabouts of the MLAs were not known to anyone.

Subsequently, Sasikala is convicted by the Supreme Court barring her from contesting elections. Edappadi Palaniswami is sworn in as the CM in February 2017, after he wins the trust vote.

Uttarakhand, March 2016

Rebel Congress MLAs are flown first to a hotel in Gurgaon and then to a farmhouse in Jaipur, ahead of the Assembly floor test, by former Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat. The Congress and BJP accuse each other of horse-trading, President’s rule is imposed. After Harish Rawat wins the trust vote on March 28, he returns as CM.

Maharashtra, June 2002

As MLAs of Peasants and Workers Party quit and the Shiv coalition Sena-BJP smells blood to bring down the NCP-Congress coalition government headed by Vilasrao Deshmukh, first the Congress and then the NCP send their MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru. As per reports, they spend their days at a Sanjay Khan-owned property, are taken on “educational tours”, and have a live orchestra performed for them as well as undergoing meditation sessions.

Whatever it is, the intervention helps. The Congress-NCP government survives.

Bihar, March 2000

Nitish Kumar is short of numbers but is invited by the Speaker to form the government as the head of the JD(U)-BJP coalition. The Congress and RJD, who cry foul, send some of their members to a hotel in Patna.
Eventually, Nitish resigns ahead of a trust vote.

Uttar Pradesh, February 1998

The Loktantrik Congress Party’s Jagdamika Pal is appointed CM, after it pulls support to the BJP government led by Kalyan Singh, which is dismissed. The BJP challenges the move, flies its MLAs to an isolated place. Singh eventually wins the trust vote, returns as CM.

Gujarat, September 1995

Shankersinh Vaghela rebels against the BJP’s decision to pick Keshubhai Patel as CM as the BJP wins its first-ever majority in the state. Patel was chosen after then BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, among others, threw his weight behind him. Vaghela flies eventually to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh with more than 40 MLAs – in a conversation with The Indian Express, he detailed how he pulled off the late-night departure, including readying the Khajuraho airport for a night landing. Madhya Pradesh is at the time ruled by the Congress. Vaghela is wooed back when Patel is removed and Suresh Mehta installed as CM.

Andhra Pradesh, August 1995

N Chandrababu Naidu sees his position in the TDP weakening due to the growing clout of father-in-law NT Rama Rao’s wife Lakshmi Parvathi. He sends 150 MLAs loyal to him to the Viceroy Hotel in Hyderabad in preparation for a takeover. NTR is sacked as party president in a stunning coup. Naidu becomes Andhra CM.

Andhra Pradesh, August, 1984

TDP MLA Nadendla Bhaskara Rao topples the NTR government with the support of the Congress (I) (as the Congress was known then). The coup is staged while NTR is out of the country. Subsequently, NTR sends his MLAs first to Bengaluru, then to Delhi. The Bhaskara Rao government collapses and NTR returns to power within two months.

Karnataka, January 1983

Facing multiple bids to topple him by the Congress (I) by pushing the Janata Party leaders to defect from the Ramakrishna Hegde-led government and facing internal rebellions, Chief Minister Hegde, sends some 80 MLAs to a luxury resort next to Bengaluru. Hegde releases alleged tapes of phone calls between the Janata leaders and the Congress (I) and eventually proves the party’s majority.

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