None Prisoners of Conscience
It’s the turn of Gujarat’s politicians now to give a new dimension to that mainstay of the novice game-theorist — the Prisoner’s Dilemma
‘Political Resort Inmate Somewhere, Not Easily Reachable’, which collapses into a handy acronym, ‘Prisoner’, is a sub-species of politician unique to the Indian sub-continent. They are known to surface in most states at some point of political turbulence or the other. If it was Tamil Nadu, whose politicians and resorts made the news a few months ago, it is the turn of Gujarat’s politicians now to give a new dimension to that mainstay of the novice game-theorist, the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
Members of the legislative assembly of that state who belong to the Indian National Congress find themselves Prisoners in Karnataka.Someof themarereportedtobe actively dancing on the horn of a dilemma: should they tear themselves away from the earthly pleasures they are plied with at a resort in Karnataka, so that they could join in the ongoing efforts to bring succour to their constituents, who literally find themselves up to their ears in water back home in rain-stricken Gujarat, and then proceed, while things are all still watery and fluid, to take, at the flood, the tide held out by the BJP that presumably leads on to much fortune, or should they go against the mercantile traditions of their state and stay true to the party that got them elected?
This is where their diaspora cousins in the UnitedStatescouldofferhelpwithaninspiring tip from Senator John McCain. This worthy, a Republican of impeccable credentials, left his hospital bed where his brain cancer had been detected, to reach the Capitol and vote against a bill that sought to materialise a seven-year campaign of the Republicans to scrap the Affordable Care Act,orObamacare.McCainvotedaccording to his conscience, that prickly part of the anatomy that no medical student has been able to locate in any cadaver he or she has hadthepleasuretodissectbutwasknownto Indira Gandhi, who urged her partymen to vote, in the presidential election of 1969, according to their conscience, rather than according to the party whip. Conscience, in that fateful election, herded votes to Indira Gandhi’s choice, VV Giri, who defeated the official nominee, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, and split the Congress.
TheIndianpoliticianrecognisedconscience as a bearer of disruption and chaos, and effectivelybanishedthetroublemakerfromthe political arena by enacting the anti-defection law. If an elected representative votes against the official whip, he would be disqualified from the House, regardless of whether the motivation for defying the whip was conscience or that still nobler reason for going against the popular mandate that got him elected, cited most recently by Nitish Kumar, the desire to further the interest of the state.
But when the next general election is just round the corner, the fear of being disqualified grips no more, and conscience begins to grow muscle like that man on that jar of whey protein. It is when legislators show signs of turning conscientious that their minders think of making Prisoners out of them and resorts that see no custom during the rains suddenly see a spurt in demand.
When conscience, furthering the interest of the state and opportunism all blend into a continuum in which the average politician can no longer make out where one ends and the other begins, the only reliable arbiter is We, the People, as in the Preamble to the Constitution, not the TV show.
It is far better to scrap the anti-defection law and leave it to the people to decide how they should deal with politicians who go against the mandate that got them elected. They could tar them and feather them, in a hoary tradition that migrated to the colonies from Europe, heckle them wherever they put in a public appearance or simply defeat them roundly at the next elections.
If the people are indifferent to how their representatives conduct themselves, we will have politicians with a roving conscience, Prisoners and out-of-season business for resorts. If people care, their pressure will make representatives stick to political morality. Ultimately, people get the leaders they deserve.