The resort as the first politics of the scoundrel

Resorting to resorts re-sorts all sorts of political alignments


Suresh Menon | October 12, 2010

Scoundrels, politics and resorts have an enduring relationship. As the elected leaders in Karnataka have shown, not for the first time, the resort is the first politics of the scoundrel. When in doubt, turn dissident, and lap up the goodies on offer; such goodies as an all-expenses-paid holiday to a popular resort where your silence is golden, although sometimes its opposite can be platinum. Resorting to resorts re-sorts all sorts of political alignments. Or so politicians believe.

In the age of mobile phones and wireless communication, there is something almost innocent in the belief that ‘resort’ politics works. This peculiarly Indian tactic of hiding away impressionable politicians (or top footballers during the transfer season in Kolkata) is intended to tell them that they cannot get a better deal from the other side.
Those who are in the game to make up the numbers are given a good time, their consciences well lubricated. While the Congress party was reported to have ferried 60 of its MLAs to a Pune resort for rest, recreation and reassurance, the BJP dissidents are thought to have decided on Thailand or Malaysia (they were in Chennai and Kochi earlier) for the final phase of their working holiday. The chief minister meanwhile sought succour at a Kerala temple (unless that is a euphemism for something else).
On an earlier occasion, then chief minister Kumaraswamy of JD (S) sent his loyal supporters to resorts around the state. Eternal holidaying is the price of democracy. Just under a year ago, it was the BJP’s turn to hide to fight another day. Such behaviour cuts across party lines, and so must be a democratic manoueuvre. The trick is to ensure that he who is bought remains bought – that is the true test of loyalty. Goa and Hyderabad were the preferred destinations then, but clearly things have moved on. Karnataka has played host to politicians from Andhra, so there might be a quid pro quo involved too.

This is the most some politicians will do for the tourism industry in the country. It is a delicate balancing act – people have to be sent away far enough to be out of reach and near enough if a show of hands is required in a hurry. That rules out (for the moment) Paris and New York, but our politicians are thinking out of the box all the time, and there might be an all-party agreement soon on how to spend tax-payers’ money more effectively for party purposes.

Soon a bemused public is told what the price of the pound of flesh is (the figure 30 to 50 crore is too vague, but that is what is being bandied about at present – and it is amazing how we accept it). We will be told who demanded and got what for staying on or moving over. And importantly, if the recession has affected the bribing classes at all.

The consolation for those who elected these flexible people into power is that politicians are doing it all for our good. They are willing to do anything in the service of the people – even if it means that they make substantial gains in the bargain.

It never occurs to them how badly their own party is treating them. It is as if the leader is saying, “Listen, you keep away from temptation, and hide from our opposition because we know how fragile you are and how easily you can be bought by the other side too.”

This insults the resort-politician’s intelligence, his integrity which has been bought at a price, and his ability to negotiate through representatives. 

The writer Suketu Mehta in his story of Mumbai has written about the way racketeers operate under ‘powertoni’. He assumed this was a local expression, but realised after a while that it was a contraction of ‘power of attorney.’ As Mehta explains, “it is the awesome ability to act on someone’s behalf, or to have others do your bidding, to sign documents, release wanted criminals, get people killed. Powertoni: A power that does not originate in yourself, a power that you are holding on someone else’s behalf.”

Politicians have powertoni all the time.

The game follows a pattern. Rebels prepare to pull the rug from under their own government; the party in power responds by asserting its moral if not numerical superiority. Stories planted in the media hint at big names being ‘signed up’, rather in the manner of footballers or Formula One drivers.  

Then come the compromises. Politicians who wouldn’t be caught breathing the same air now discover new blood relationships. There is much hugging and kissing as leaders decide to sink their difference. To bury the hatchet, and not in one another’s backs.  All in the national cause. Those who missed out on the holiday resorts know that another crisis is just around the corner. 

No resorting to force here, just the reverse.



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