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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 32, New Delhi, July 24, 2021

The Politics of Defection: A Shattering Blow to the Indian Democracy and the Need for Stringent Provision | Nag & Bandyopadhyay

Friday 23 July 2021

by Gouri Sankar Nag and Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay *

The politics of defection is one of the major obstacles to the glory of parliamentary democracy in India. An Anti-Defection law was passed in the Parliament of India in 1985 through 52nd Amendment to the Constitution which added the 10th Schedule to the Constitution under the aegis of Rajiv Gandhi for the purpose of removing this obstacle. But if we think a little deeper we will see that even after 35 years of its passing the bulwark has neither been effective to stem the rot of dubious fidelity of the people’s representatives who do not give any importance and dignity to this Law nor has it found favour with parties who seem to quietly get benefit out of such tendency at vogue. As such legislators have repeatedly played this dirty game of changing parties out of opportunistic deal devoid of any normative content. They have done it through the loopholes of the Anti-Defection Law to further their own petty interests.

When a person after being elected as a representative (Central or State Legislatures) under the symbol of any political party, leaves his relationship with his parent party and becomes a member of another political party, s/he is called a defector at that time. The interesting matter to be noted here is that in many cases this defector cannot be penalized by being found guilty. Thus a culture of impunity has developed so much so that the political representatives have become adept at using and bypassing the anti-defection law. The Constitution has given priceless value to the votes of the citizens; contrastingly the politics of vested interests of the representatives is making it worthless day by day. It is needless to mention that how much the political representative is insulting the manpower in the name of public representation, and it is an extreme insult to the constitutional system too. Parliamentary democracy is becoming a farce as a result of the change of party by the representatives without any hesitation. In spite of the existence of the Anti-Defection Law, it has almost reached to the level of utter neglect.

First of all, we will look at the provisions of the law in the constitution of India. According to the Anti-Defection Law, 1985, the membership of the defecting representative will be cancelled for the following reasons:

a) Membership of any political party or the membership of any legislature (Central or States) will be lost if he i) resigns voluntarily as a member of the party or ii) castes his vote against any directive issued by his own party or abstain from casting his own vote any issue.

b) If he joins a political party after being elected as representative who is not a nominee of any political party.

c) A nominated member of any legislature shall be disqualified if he joins any political party after 6 months from the date he takes his seat.

After amending the schedule in 2003 by the 91st Constitutional amendment, a provision is made which exempted disqualifications arising out of splits with 1/3rd of the members defecting from a political party. So, it was the first assault on the intention of the original act beside its effect that “encouraged greater factionalism in parties”.

Secondly, elections in a democratic country allow the people to reassert their desire as aware electorate but political defections occurring between elections undermine that assertive act and thus the expressed will and trust of the people. Defections were common in India even prior to the country’s independence but one needs to draw a line of distinction between ‘genuine dissent’ and unprincipled defection. The latter rearing its head in the post-Nehru era in Indian politics and the rise of coalition politics increased the incidence of defections as elected representatives sought to occupy a berth in the cabinet of ministers. Political power and prestige became the sole consideration in all such graceless, reckless unscrupulous moves. As a result politics indeed became a dirty game repulsing the plebeians to participate in it. An extreme example occurred in 1967 when the legislator Gaya Lal changed his allegiance three times in a single day, and gave rise to the infamous expression ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’. It was the height of the epidemic of horse-trading in Indian politics that continues to recur till date.

Thus the issue of change of party affiliation and loyalty within the elected tenure of the representative from a party has been seen among the people’s representatives for a long time, which has created a grave crisis in India’s parliamentary democracy. India’s Constitution is the largest written Constitution in the world. The constitution states very clearly that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. It is the fundamental right of the people to form a political party or join a political organization through this source of freedom. India has the largest democratic structure in the world to recognize this fundamental right; it is through this structure that the Lok Sabha, state assemblies and even different municipal bodies including the three tiered Panchayati Raj system are formed by these people’s elected representatives who have been voted by the people spontaneously; the elected representatives are elected with an ideology in mind and everyone who votes for them is a believer in the same ideology. But many times elected representatives forget the ideology with which they are elected. Contrastingly they joined political parties of other ideologies ahead of election when they sense the fulcrum of their own party is on the weaker side of the balance of political configuration. To put it in other words, the people who voted for them were deceived and it completely corrupts the multi-party and pluralistic democratic system by abandoning their faith and conviction. This activity of the people’s representatives is otherwise known as the ultimate betrayal to the common man. Our late PM Rajiv Gandhi enacted the above law in the Lok Sabha against such political malpractice. And that is included in the Constitution of the country. The name of that law is Anti-Defection Law (1985) as mentioned above.

But today people have many questions about the effectiveness of this law. Political representatives from all over India, especially for the last 30-40 years, are being elected with ideology of one party in mind and then the game starts when they switch over to join another political party on the diametrically opposite pole. Although it seems that it is not related to a person alone. It is a culture that has grown over time due to our lapses or lack of serious cognizance taken to eradicate such pernicious tumor of dishonesty out to engulf the entire democratic citadel itself. Yet, in the absence of recall what happens is that in such situation of scruple of conscience, the people of the country cannot but remain silent spectators. Nothing can be done legally. Today is the time to think about it and a stringent law is much needed to stop this ugly convention; there must be a rigid provision in the law that if a person is elected with a particular ideology in mind, at least during the elected-tenure s/he could not join any other political party in any way. If this process of switching of the people’s representatives cannot be stopped, then the stage will soon be set up for death of India’s largest democracy and there is way to avoid such inevitable nemesis that the representatives in all elections will slip into the entrapment of such vicious circle. Thus, the unethical activity of the people’s representatives, betrayal of the citizens and the process of becoming a product of the market on the representatives’ part– all these elements exist today like scars all over the country. As a result, people’s frustration is increasing by leaps and bounds. Resentment and disdain are simmering in people’s minds about political parties. The honest and conscientious new generation is moving away from politics. And that place is being occupied by mafias involved in various ill activities. Those think that politics is a place of personal gain or a curtain to cover their illegal activities with political shields. Yet benign hope remains awake. If we want to save Indian democracy, then a broad alliance of honest and conscientious people and their united and lively protest could only strike at the root of that vicious cycle of the political world. Indian democracy will create a history of a new determination through people’s trust, faith and honest living.

The current law of Anti-Defection needs to be amended and refined to stop the humiliation of democracy. Without leaving the power in the hands of the Speaker to enforce the anti-defection law which carries the possibility of its misuse on partisan ground, it should be brought in charge of a standing committee on legislative matters. All parties should be represented in the committee, in which there will be two neutral persons who will be nominated by an esteemed body of jurists. Even there is a hidden risk if Governor is provided a chance to nominate a member for such an impartial committee. One of the two nominated representatives will be a constitutional expert. The other will be a well-known social worker. Each member of the committee shall have equal powers. And everyone’s opinion will be of equal importance. In this way the law can be applied in a new form.

In this context we can illustrate the case of Mukul Roy of West Bengal who originally belongs to the All India Trinamool Congress. But he had resigned from TMC on 25.09.17; later he was suspended from the TMC for 6 years due to his anti-party activities. Along with this, he had also resigned from Rajya Sabha membership on 11.10.17. Thereafter he joined BJP. Then again on 11.06.21 Roy rejoined TMC party. Interestingly, he has not yet resigned from his earlier party BJP after being elected from Krishnanagar Uttar Constituency in the last W.B. Vidhan Sabha Election, 2021. Formally he is still a candidate of BJP after joining TMC. In this situation, he has also been made the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the W.B. Vidhan Sabha disregarding the prevalent practice of making the opposition-leader as the Chairman.

If the system runs in this way, it will not set a good precedence for the policy of parliamentary democracy. However, the Opposition of the assembly has submitted evidence to the assembly Speaker in the demand for Roy’s dismissal from the post of MLA by enforcing the anti-defection law against him. Hopefully, the assembly Speaker has initiated a hearing in this regard since he is the sole authority to take a decision on defection. Let us expect if this constitutional stalemate is solved amicably. However, Indian politics, particularly the federal dynamics are undergoing a new phase of unprecedented tussle in which defection is a new pawn to pressure each other. In fact, the centre cannot wash its hand off the skullduggery which is perceptively evident in its well-calculated moves to checkmate the newly elected Bengal government on such issues like requisition of the Chief Secretary and now targeting Roy even when its own culpability to fuel defection from TMC or by tutoring a report by the NHRC gets exposed.

*(Authors: Dr. Gouri Sankar Nag, Professor, Dept. of Political Science, S-K-B University
& Dr. Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Hooghly Mohsin College )

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