Karnataka verdict: Why BJP should be the last party to cry foul over horse-trading

If anything, the saffron party has shown the way to make post-poll backdoor methods a 'legit' strategy.

 |  4-minute read |   15-05-2018
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With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failing to cross the halfway mark in the Karnataka Assembly election and the Congress not managing to even come close to the figure, the state has once again brought to the fore an ugly reality of our times. In order to cobble up numbers, deceit is an accepted strategy because probity in political life has long been dead. Horse-trading is a legit strategy to win the race to power.


Those who followed the run-up to the high-octane battle in the southern Indian state would know each party in this triangular contest — the BJP, Congress and Janata Dal Secular (JDS) — claimed it would form the government on its own. Because playing on the offensive is a guarantee to success, it was only fair for the parties to say so. But, when faced with pointed questions of who would join hands with whom in case a clear majority was not obtained, all parties ducked the query.

It is now almost clear that the Congress and JDS had a pre-poll understanding to forge a coalition, should the need arise. This means both parties kept the voters in the dark about what lay ahead.

While the BJP may have missed the bus in Karnataka, its track record in horse-trading is no better. We witnessed this just last year in Goa, then in Manipur. The elections saw parties that contested an acrimonious battle coming together to form the government.

amit-shah_051518074328.jpgAmit Shah has proven himself the king of coups on many an occasion. Photo: PTI

The BJP managed to gain power through backdoor entries and similar unlikely alliances in other highly complicated and politically fragmented northeastern states too.

Before we delve deeper into the topic, we must first understand what 'horse-trading' actually means.

Understanding horse-trading

When a political party tries to bring in members from the Opposition camp to gain a majority in the Assembly, and resorts to unapproved techniques in doing so, that is called horse-trading. The party in question may offer ministerial perks and financial benefits to lure opposing (supposedly so) members.

The most enticing perk in the Congress-JDS deal now appears to be the chief ministerial berth for JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy.

Horse-trading is usually done when no party emerges as a clear winner after an election. In order to gain the majority required to form a government, political parties try to pull in members from other parties. It indicates hard bargaining of some kind. This is what makes horse-trading akin to bribing and allows political parties to manipulate mandates by doling out favours in the form of positions, cash, or both.

While democracies are touted as "governments of the people, by the people and for the people", practices like horse-trading work by keeping voters in the dark.

What's worse, we have come to accept this practice as the new normal.

Breach of trust

It is difficult for parties that are out of power to generate funds by attracting donations or much sympathy from, say, business groups. Political observers say funding for the Lok Sabha election in 2019 is a priority for the Congress. But the party is now in power in only two states — Punjab and Mizoram — and one Union territory, Puducherry. Even Mizoram will go to the polls in November 2018. The Congress' desperation to forge an alliance with the JDS by relinquishing the CM's chair is thus obvious. The party needs to keep the money tap going. The very argument that Congress needs Karnataka for funds legitimises horse-trading.

This is an open acceptance of the fact that politics is a means to make money and winning elections, a sure-sought way to fund the next election. The cost be damned — the people's mandate be darned.

As already stated, while this practice hasn't been outlawed by the Constitution, it is definitely a blot on public morality and political honesty. This is a breach of trust of the voters.

While states and the country itself needs stable governments, by not declaring which party is open to an alliance with whom, parties are only tricking voters.

It is one game where buying and selling of MLAs and MPs is now so common that when parties anticipate the danger of their legislators switching sides, they are housed in resorts till governments are formed. News channels and papers report this as just another bit of news. There are hardly any primetime discussions on the legitimacy of this practice, nor is substantial space devoted in newspapers to shape public opinion through the dissemination of information.

Under these circumstances, no matter who forms the government in Karnataka now, it is the voter who is the ultimate loser.

Also read: Why Karnataka election has resulted in a political cliffhanger (and what it reveals about Modi and Rahul Gandhi)


Vandana Vandana @vsinghhere

Author is the former Assistant Editor, DailyO.

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