Horse trading might simply mean buying and selling of horses, but the other and relevant definition for this write-up is, of course, trading that involves hard and shrewd bargaining, especially in politics.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines political horse trading as the making by powerful people of a clever and often secret agreement usually for the purpose of getting an advantage over others.
Historically, due to the difficulties in evaluating the merit, strength and virility of the horses offered for sales, horse trading offers a great opportunity for dishonesty for both buyers and sellers. This complex bargaining process lead to the term horse trading entering politics or political vote trading.
The attitude of the term horse trading since its use in phraseology has been widely adopted as a way to describe unethical business practices, but projected as ethically and naturally moral.
In India, the term is generally associated with politics whenever a government falls or struggles to garner majority in the houses of legislature, or is unable to get support on a policy or a bill or before every general election faces the apprehension of defeat, politicians indulge in horse trading.
In horse trading, one criteria of judging the breed of horse is by judging its teeth, to differentiate it from the species of donkey. This does not mean that our politicians look like horses and we voters have to just see their teeth to differentiate them from anyone. No, no, no.
Allegations rife in Gujarat election campaign
It would be a moral sin in same way and tone, the way Supreme Court has declared the defection of politician from one political party to other, as a moral sin on Constitution. Recently, our beloved Vice-President of Congress Mr Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Gujarat elections, with respect to trading of the aides of Hardik Patel, that Gujarat is priceless and can never be bought.
It cannot be bought but can it be tradable?
Often horse trading in India is administered with three means- money, muscle and women. This is still tradable. (…)
On this, Hardik Patel said, “The BJP has formed a corpus budget of Rs 500 crore to buy those who led the agitation against the ruling government. I cannot understand if development has really been done, then why this event of buying?”
सत्ता के सामने चला रहे आंदोलनकारी को ख़रीद ने किए BJP ने 500करोड़ का बजट लगाया हैं।मुझे समझ नहीं आ रहा की विकास किया है तो ख़रीददारी क्यों !
— Hardik Patel (@HardikPatel_) October 23, 2017
Narendra Patel and Nikhil Swamy returned to Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) after failed horse trading.
Patel then addressed a press conference to allege that BJP has offered him Rupees 1 crore to join the saffron brigade. He even showed Rs 10 lakh cash and avowed that this has been given to him by BJP, with the promise of giving another Rs 90 lakhs after one day in order of compliance.
This is the 2nd time that horse trading has been in controversy in Gujarat this year. In July 2017, Congress alleged horse trading by BJP because 6 MLAs of Congress deserted the party head of Rajya Sabha poll in Gujarat. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala called the incident a murder of democracy and violation of Constitutional law.
MLA of Vyara in Gujarat, Puna Gamit, who was also present at the press conference of Surjewala said that he was approached by a senior IPS officer and was offered money to resign. Gamit also alleged that the officer said to him that he can make him meet Amit Shah as well. Congress alleged that not just muscle money, but even the state machinery became an element in horse trading.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi alleged on this incident that anti-defection law is supreme and Supreme Court has repeatedly called defections as a Constitutional sin. Gujarat assembly speaker Ram Lal Vohra said that he had questioned the 6 Congress MLAs who resigned and claimed that they were not under any sort of pressure.
The drama did not stop there. Congress, whose strength in Gujarat assembly, was reduced down to 51, kindled by the resignation of 6 MLAs- 3 of whom joined BJP, flew its 40 MLAs to Bangalore.
On this horse trading in Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls, Shankar Singh Vaghela, the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, said that these 40 MLAs were lured with booze and women by the Congress in Bengaluru.
Shankar Singh Vaghela, who renounced from going to Bengaluru, said that horse-trading was done by Congress leaders- the MLAs in Bengaluru camp were offered ‘Sharab’ and ‘kebab’ to placate them for voting in favor of Congress candidate Ahmed Patel.
With lots of razzmatazz of the whole night of counting after the polling of Rajya Sabha in Gujarat, the counting of votes again brought the controversy into picture and the savior of democracy- the Election Commission of India resolved the issue regarding the validity of votes.
It is not a new phenomenon in Indian politics. Horse trading has been plaguing the voters against the mandate since ever. MPs and MLAs have now turned into very high-value property, especially during the vertex of formation of a government. The churning of whirlpool reclassifies them with new identity and party. In most cases, the defectors are awarded top positions and benefits.
2017 should be re-named as the year of ‘Horse Trading’. In February 2017, lot of drama was seen in Tamil Nadu’s politics after the death of then Chief Minister Jayalalitha, on who will succeed her. VS Sasikala ordered over hundred legislators from AIADMK to stay at a plush resort near Mahabalipuram. Except the freedom to move outside and communicate, there were offered every luxury. Even the locals and the villagers residing nearby the hotel were harassed and rattled by the scrutiny of MLAs.
This incident happened in lieu of the trust vote which was to be held in the Assembly. Sasikala was in fear that her MLAs might defect to O Pannerselvam’s camp. On this incident, the Madras High Court even asked the police to find the missing MLAs to avoid a hostage crisis.
In March this year, both Goa and Manipur faced protests after the state assembly election results, in which the Congress was politically outmaneuvered by BJP.
In Goa, people took to the streets to protest. In Goa, when Manohar Parrikar’s swearing-in ceremony was going on, people came to the streets waving placard- ‘I want my vote back’ and ‘No horse trading’.
Trading politicians recurring phenomenon
MLAs also venture into ‘Bharat Bhraman’ while horse trading. In 2016, 9 Congress MLAs rebelled against the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand. The Governor then called for a floor test. BJP then send its 27 MLAs to Delhi and from there, they were moved to Jaipur and then to Pushkar in Rajasthan. The trust vote was scheduled on 31st March 2016, the MLAs were kept away and not even allowed to celebrate Holi with their families and were taken to a resort in Vikas Nagar, near Dehradun.
In 2016, in another incident, around 13 MLAs defected to Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress’ Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy complained to the governor of horse trading.
In 2010, in Karnataka, BJP alleged that 11 MLAs were Kidnapped by the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular). A similar incident happened in 2004 in Karnataka between BJP, JDS and Congress and in 2002, in Jammu and Kashmir. The incidents are numerous.
One of the lowest points in Indian Parliamentary history came about when 3 BJP MPs brought bundles of cash in Parliament in 2008, alleging that Congress offered them bribe to sail through the vote of confidence on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal.
Horse trading virus in Rajya Sabha
The horse trading has led to more mercantile approach towards the seat of the Parliament and the state legislative assemblies, especially the upper houses. This is dire to parliamentary democracy. According to Thangam Thenarasu, former Education Minister of Tamil Nadu, there has been a shift in how businesses approach politics. According to him, before liberalization, India had ministers who were close to industrialist, but after that, industrialists began to enter politics and mostly through Rajya Sabha and upper houses.
These incidents of their entrance into the temple of democracy without clairvoyance is leading into crony capitalism. Vijay Mallya, the chairman of defunct Kingfisher Airlines, was a member of Rajya Sabha since 2002. He also served as a member of the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Standing Committee on Commerce. This committee is overseeing India’s aviation ministry responsibilities, include getting bills drafted by the ministry and evaluating its demands for grants.
Formal rural development minister Jairam Ramesh called it a serious conflict of interest because it gave Mallya access to information and unfair advantage to influence policy.
In another incident of conflict of interest in recent years, Kupendra Reddy, a real estate baron served in select committees on Real Estate Regulation And Development Bill, 2013 in Karnataka. BJP’s Shyama Charan Gupta, a bidi baron said that tobacco use does not cause cancer. He served as a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation.
The latest entrant in Rajya Sabha is Essel Group Chairman Subhash Chandra, who was elected in June, 2016. He became a member of the standing committee on information technology- that has looked into media and broadcasting issues in the past.
Rajya Sabha is also not immune from this horse trading.
Absence of proof and guilt
The problem with horse trading is that it ventures into allegations, controversies and media only sensationalizes it. Then, the dust settles down after elections. No one is ever held guilty. Thus, making it a fraud on the mandate given to legislators.
We, at TidingsCentral believe that unfortunately, we haven’t developed a moral convention in politics to keep it clean, so that the morale of the voters could garner trust in politics and democracy, with every incremental elections.
Though we have the anti-defection law in the tenth schedule of the Constitution to curb these malpractices in elections, but still the democracy is suffering from politically generated trade practices. We as a voter do not choose our politicians for being traded, but we choose them to make good policies for us as a nation.