For the past two years, Rajasthan, which is a popular tourist destination, has often been in the news for a new form of hospitality often termed as 'political tourism' and 'resort politics'.
Starting from 2019, legislators from Congress and its ally parties have been flown into the desert state and kept at five-star hotels or resorts in a bid to prevent them from poaching. While Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot never misses a chance to accuse the BJP of horse-trading and toppling elected governments, leaders of the state Congress have been playing a perfect host to MLAs flying in from places such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and now Assam.
Besides hosting MLAs from other states, in July 2020, Congress also herded all the MLAs from the Gehlot faction in wake of the rebellion by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot.
On Friday, as many as 22 candidates of the opposition alliance in Assam have been flown to Jaipur in a flight and lodged in a hotel amid fears that the BJP may try to lure them away ahead of election results due next month. The candidates from the Congress-led opposition alliance known as Mahajot are from the Maulana Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
Interestingly, the MLA candidates have been kept in the same Fairmont hotel in Jaipur- Delhi highway where Congress MLAs supporting Ashok were put up last July during the party's internal crisis.
A senior leader from the Congress party and an MLA from Jaipur who has been made in charge of their hospitality told Outlook, "We are keeping a close eye on the election contestants and checking if there are any attempts of horse-trading. We are aware of the trend in the country, of BJP trying to break the Congress governments even after losing elections". The candidates are expected to stay in the hotel till the announcement of the results of the tightly contested State Assembly election will be held on May 2.
The speculations are rife that Congress election contestants from Assam will also join them.
Previous instances of 'resort politics'
This trend of considering Rajasthan as a safe house for congress and allied party legislators became apparent after the Ashok Gehlot government came into power in the state in December 2018. In the last two years, MLAs from four states were sent to Rajasthan to keep them safe from poaching attempts.
In November 2019 the Congress in Maharashtra in an attempt to prevent its MLAs from being poached by BJP moved many party MLAs to Jaipur in Gehlot-ruled Rajasthan. The shifting was done amid rumours of BJP trying to lure Congress MLAs to reach the majority mark. The MLAs were kept at Buena Vista - a luxury resort located on the Jaipur-Delhi Highway.
A few months later, in March 2020, the Congress party in Madhya Pradesh moved its legislators to Jaipur to prevent their possible poaching by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Interestingly at the same time, BJP had also moved its own lawmakers to Gurugram amid a tug-of-war overpower. Despite the fact that Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh couldn't be saved, the first choice for the party when it came to safeguarding its MLAs was Rajasthan.
In June 2020, amid the pandemic and ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections, the Gujarat Congress shifted its legislators to party-ruled Rajasthan, in a bid to prevent alleged attempts at poaching by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Elections for the four Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat was slated for June 19. The legislators stayed for two weeks in a five-star resort in Mount Abu.
In addition to MLAs flying in from neighbouring states, more than 100 MLAs from the Congress and its partners were camped at the Fairmont Hotel in July last year. After the tussle between Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot was not resolved even after weeks, the MLAs were shifted to Suryagarh resort in Jaisalmer.
"It is a known fact that BJP tries its best to break governments, even after losing. Rajasthan is a safe place for MLAs because we have a strong Congress government here. Also, the Congress party in Rajasthan has set an example in 2020 for standing strong and not letting BJP collapse the government", senior Congress leader Archana Sharma told Outlook.