The spectacle of BJP scrambling to pull together a simple majority in Karnataka where the recent Assembly elections threw up a hung parliament had much of my Twitter feed up in arms.
People breathlessly shared video snippets of MLAs telling TV channels that once the police protection was withdrawn from Eagleton resort, BJP fixers brazenly walked up to targeted MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) offering them ₹ 100cr (~$15M) to switch allegiance.
Now Chief Minister, HD Kumaraswamy - sworn in after the day old BJP government resigned without facing the trust vote - was quoted saying this:
Quick Aside - The term horse trading is defined thusly by Merriam-Webster:
negotiation accompanied by shrewd bargaining and reciprocal concessions
In a hung parliament, horse trading amounts to offering cabinet or ministerial posts and/or money to elected leaders to induce them to defect to offerer.
Chetan Bhagat, a favorite target of a lot of Twitter users, really stepped into it when he announced to the world that to him, horse trading was art:
In a hung parliament there’s no ethical way out. So let’s stop moralizing either side please as it is a pointless exercise. Even horse trading is an art form. another test for both BJP and Cong. Let’s see who’s better at it.— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) May 16, 2018
The response was cutting:
Horse trading is an art. Just like Chetan Bhagat books are literature.— Aisi Taisi Democracy (@AisiTaisiDemo) May 16, 2018
In defense of Horse Trading
Personally, I would not be comfortable offering bribes or inducements to anyone to join my cause. Once a mercernary, always a mercernary, imho.
On the other hand, having the BJP blatantly flaunt its financial muscle, unsavory as it looks to us on the sidelines, shows that democracy in India hasn't yet retreated into echo chambers of ideological purity.
If you compare this with the United States where the Tea Party movement has become so entrenched that stalwart Republicans like John McCain are branded RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). All compromise is viewed with suspicion - even Donald Trump was called a Democrat for his failure to repeal Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). Experts believe that even Ronald Reagan would have found it tough to find a home in the Republican Party.
When compared to the intense fervor on the right and the left, with entrenched positions and deep skepticism for the other side, Parliamentary democracy with its cacophonous open outcry buying and selling of loyalties provides a safety valve to release pent up pressures.
If the only way to get reelected is by staying squarely in the middle of your largest voting block - which is what a lot of Uber Trumpers are doing to curry favor with the staunchest Republicans - what incentive do you have for compromise and negotiation.
On the other hand, if your constituents know that you have a price (a) they learn to accept you as imperfect and (b) discover your actual boundaries - like the BJP did with the JD(S) when no one from the JD(S) switched to the BJP despite the $15M price tag.
What worries me is that the Indian elite are slowly cocooning themselves in ideology. We are going the way of the Tea Party with bright red lines that may not be crossed and spitting on people (metophorically) who may not be as hard core as themselves.
The truth is that this ideological litmus test is hardly Indian. We are a nation of compromises. Just look outside your window to the street below. I guarantee you that within 5 minutes you will see someone going the wrong way on the street but NO ONE will bat an eyelid.
The person on the ground makes allowances for graft and greed on the politicians so long as something is done to improve their lot in life. This is the India that a lot of the population lives in and our leaders reflect that.