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Defections & Subversion of Mandates

It’s high time that drastic measures are taken to rein in such murderous assaults on the credibility of our electoral democracy.

The political slugfest within Congress in Rajasthan doesn’t bewilder me, as politics is no longer about public service but power & ambitions. Just rewind back to what happened in MP a few months back. The Kamal Nath led Congress govt. fell because Scindia walked out of Congress to join BJP, along with a group of Congress MLAs. And these are not isolated incidents but have become trends. Karnataka witnessed the collapse of JDS-Congress coalition govt and the capture of power by BJP due to defections and horse trading.

The electorate is confused and rightly so. What is the relevance of elections at a time when electoral mandates are being subverted with impunity without any fear of law and democratic precedents? People vote for a JDU-RJD-Congress mahagathbandhan in Bihar only to see the government bite the dust midstream and another political combination of BJP & JDU gain the levers of power. People vote for BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra only to see Sharad Pawar wield disproportionate power from behind the curtains through the Shiv Sena- NCP-Congress coalition govt. It’s high time that drastic measures are taken to rein in such murderous assaults on the credibility of our electoral democracy. There is no way our democracy can be allowed to be held to ransom by a motley group of self seeking & power hungry politicians.

The Tenth Schedule of the Indian constitution deals with anti defection. Anti defection law was passed in 1985 to put a stop to the phenomenon of Aaya ram, Gaya ram in politics and prevent horse trading & instability in governments. An MLA or MP can be disqualified under the provisions of this Act if he voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or he defies party whip to vote or votes contrary to the line advocated in the party whip. If two thirds of the total representatives leave a party and decide to merge with another party, the provisions of anti defection law will not apply either to them or to the one third of the representatives who remain with the parent party and do not cross over. However, despite more than 3 decades of the passage of this Act, defections still remain a scourge in Indian politics. The partisan role of the speakers most of whom belong to the ruling parties has further obfuscated the issues in the proper implementation of this Act. Certain amendments need to be carried out in the Anti Defection Act as per the recommendations of the National Constitution Review Commission.

Defectors must be made to resign from the membership of the House and contest fresh elections to enter the House. Defectors must be barred from holding any public office for the remainder of the term of the House or till fresh elections whichever is earlier. Vote cast by a defector to topple a government must be invalidated. The power to decide on questions of defection & disqualification should be taken away from the Speaker and entrusted to the Election Commission. The speakers have generally favoured the ruling party agenda in dealing with such cases; had it not been for the provision of Judicial Review as expounded by the apex judiciary in early 2000s while scrutinising the role of UP speaker Kesari Nath Tripathi, things would have certainly turned worse because till then it was well settled that speakers can only decide about defection cases and courts shouldn’t intervene.

In the current Rajasthan imbroglio, giving notice to the recalcitrant pro Sachin Pilot MLAs and Sachin Pilot himself under the provisions of anti defection law by the speaker for not attending party meetings, is a bit outrageous and not in order. Anti defection law can’t kill dissent, debates and differences in any party. Democracy within the party is as vital as discipline in the party for a healthy working of democracy. Party whips should apply to matters like budget votes and no confidence motions which may lead to fall of governments and not trivial ones like attending party meets.

In India, the speaker mostly belongs to the ruling party. In coalition governments especially at the state levels, every party wants the post of speaker for itself. Why? It’s no secret that horse trading & defections have become the new normals in our polity and speakers are supposed to fiercely protect the interests of their parties. Though most of the Lok Sabha speakers have performed their tasks admirably, the same can’t be said about the speakers of the state legislative assemblies. In UK, the Speaker doesn’t belong to any party, the moment he is declared the speaker he/she resigns from the membership of his party.

The situation is different in India. Though the post of speaker is impartial, he/she doesn’t relinquish the membership of his party but retains it despite being elected as the speaker of the House. In case of a tie on any bill between the ruling party and the opposition, he has the final deciding vote something which manifests his/her political predilection and something which is not prevalent in UK. In UK, if a speaker wants to contest election after completing his stint as the presiding officer of the House, no party puts up a candidate against him to facilitate his victory at the hustings. This is not the case in our country and speakers have to contest bitterly fought elections. This creates insecurity in their minds compromising their positions. Speakers are not immune to political blame games in India.

Why should there be post poll alliances? Such sort of alliances are immoral and opportunistic. The lure of power makes strange bedfellows and the outcome is instable government, policy paralysis and vitiated socio-political atmosphere. Post poll alliances should be banned. Only pre poll alliances should have legality. Another step that needs to be immediately taken is to compel the party or the alliance of parties to declare their leader before going to the polls. Masses need to know the leader of the party for which they are going to vote. It’s a bad trend to see parties waiting for the final voting results before declaring their leader. Such measures need to be incorporated under constitutional provisions.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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