The Cambridge Dictionary describes horse trading as shrewd, often difficult, discussions among people or organisations trying to make a business arrangement, where each tries to get something more favourable to them. The origins of the expression lie in the nineteenth century, when the traders of horses were seen to be especially crafty or calculating. In modern British English, it refers to unofficial negotiations that involve hard bargaining and give-and-take, and various degrees of compromise, and carries a general sense of disapproval.
In the Indian context, horse trading has been commonly used since the mid-1980s when political defections became frequent, and MLAs and MPs were approached to act outside expected party positions and help rivals sometimes form governments. It usually involved loaves and fishes, the lure of office, and is seen as political corruption.
Aya Ram, Gaya Ram
This most eloquent evocation of the politics of horse trading is a contribution of Haryana to the Indian political lexicon. But horse trading is far from just being just a Haryana phenomenon.
In 1967, when the first non-Congress governments were formed in India, the Haryana MLA Gaya Lal managed to switch to, and back from, the United Front thrice in 15 days — one crossover happened within just nine hours. When he finally rejoined the Congress, Congress leader Rao Birender Singh produced him at a press conference and announced, “Gaya Ram is now Aya Ram.”
While entire cabinets have defected in Haryana, several states have seen the phenomenon of floor-crossing. In the so-called JMM bribery case, the minority government of P V Narasimha Rao survived in 1993 after Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs supported the government, allegedly in return for cash. While Rao was ultimately acquitted, the long-running scandal raised a lot of awareness about the phenomenon of elected representatives switching political loyalties, often for dubious reasons.
The 52nd Amendment, which came into force in 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, inserted the Tenth Schedule in the Constitution, popularly known as the ‘anti-defection law’, which laid down a process for the disqualification of legislators on grounds of defection. A provision in the law that is relevant to the situation in Karnataka prohibits the breaking away of any section of legislators smaller than two-thirds of the strength of their party in the House. The anti-defection law has generally been seen as providing stability to the government by preventing shifts of party allegiance. However, a summary of the draft working paper of the Law Commission on simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state Assemblies circulated last month lists, among its possible recommendations, that “in order to prevent a stalemate… in the case of Hung Parliament/Assembly, the rigour of ‘Anti-Defection law’… be removed as an exception”.
While many countries around the world have seen defections by lawmakers, Bangladesh, South Africa and Kenya are among a handful of those that have laws against defection. Western countries like Canada, France, Germany and the UK do not. (ENS &PRS Legislative Research)
Why Even 5 River Dolphins Are Good
The Beas river is the only habitat of the Indus river dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor), an endangered species. However, the bhullan (the one with the long lips, as it is locally called) is not as popular as the Ganga river dolphin, the national aquatic animal, which is supported by a Dolphin Action Plan and conservation programmes.
From May 2-6, 2018, WWF-India and the Punjab government’s Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation initiated a survey of a 185-km stretch of the Beas to assess the population of the dolphin, and the efforts needed for its conservation. The tandem survey, conducted using two sets of observers in two boats, found 5-11 dolphins in the system. While the numbers are low, what is important is the sighting of a weeks-old calf, a sub-adult, and a female dolphin, indicating that the river was home to a breeding population. Therefore, the urgency to put conservation measures in place. While declaration of the Beas as a conservation reserve is a step in the right direction, the key is to establish and maintain environmental flows (quantity, quality and timing) specific to the species. Second, it is important to ensure that there is an adequate prey base. What is also positive is that farmers and fishermen take pride in the dolphins; they are already Beas and Dolphin ‘Mitras’. We need many more to join this network from across the country.
There are fewer than 2,000 Indus dolphins in the world, all in India and Pakistan, and studies have indicated that their habitat has shrunk by 80%. The bhullan cannot be lost. (Suresh Babu S V is Director (Rivers, Wetlands & Water Policy), WWF-India)