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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 32 New Delhi July 27, 2019

Political Defections in Karnataka and Goa: A Blow to Democracy

Sunday 28 July 2019

by Joseph Abraham

With the political environment in Karnataka and Goa getting murkier after the shameful political defections, the prophecy of Lord Acton, the famous English historian, politician and writer, that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely“ seems to become a dangerous reality in the country.

The recent inter-party defections in these two States is causing grave concern to the political future of the state as it has become a menacing trend among politicians who, after getting elected, reincarnate themselves from one party to the other as old wine in new bottles. This unethical practice is done at the detriment of the state and political system. It is not done in the interest of the electorate or the party nor do they benefit in any way from it.

Defections bring a negative challenge to the entire gamut of political culture and orientation. The motives behind political defections are critical to the political future of the state as well as larger political culture of the country. The current trend of inter-party defections in Karnataka and Goa is a threat not only to the political culture but also to the legal system as well since it brings out glaring abuses, confusion and vicious manipulation of the loopholes in the anti-defection law.

Defections have led to the establishment of an undesirable and notorious political market for inter-party defections based on personal interests and flimsy political grounds. The anti-defection law was enacted with the hope and dream to eradicate the political virus of defections and wipe out this anti-democratic practice from the political scenario of India. However, even after three decades of the introduction of this legal initiative, the ghost of defection continues to haunt the body politic of Indian democracy causing acute political instability. The efficacy of the anti-defection law is therefore not satisfactory and defections among political parties have become an accepted practice. It is unfortunate that no remedy to this evil is in sight and there seems to be an atmosphere of helplessness and hopelessness among the electorate and larger public.

Defections represent an utter contempt of the electorate which in turn shakes the foundations of trust and confidence of the people in the democratic functioning of the multi-party electoral system of the country. The growing public disinterest in the political system caused by frequent inter-party defections has necessitated the intervention of the judiciary to curb the unethical practice of defections. It is apparent that in all defections, the key attraction or motivation is the lure for office than driven by any democratic spirit.

Politics of defections undermines the foundation of democracy, constitutional provisions as it is often motivated by vested interests and self-aggrandisement. It has emerged as a new form of political industry lacking in ethics or principles of justice. It is unfortunate that the existing legal provisions against the menace of defections has become ineffective to curb this evil practice which is killing the very soul of the democratic process and the multi-party political system.

As the anti-defection law has proved to be a toothless tiger to curb defection, it may be necessary to grant adjudicatory powers to the President to decide on defections in Parliament and to the Governor for defections in State Legislatures. This brings considerable legal consistency with other legal provisions governing disqualification of elected Members to Parliament and State Legislatures. If the enhancement of the powers of the Presiding Officer of the Legislature dilutes the spirit of the anti-defection law, an alternative option may be to set up an independent authority to regulate the rising menace of political defections. If all these experiments fail, there is little option left but to replace the parliamentary system with alternative forms of direct democracy, that includes the right to recall among other reforms.

In any case, the political anarchy and indis-cipline generated by frivolous defections strikes at the root of democracy and is a great injustice and betrayal to the Founding Fathers of the Indian Republic and the millions of freedom fighters who shed their blood and sweat to establish the democratic edifice in India. Elections are the lifeline of democracy with privileged rights given to the electorate to choose their representatives who in turn have the great responsibility to live up to the expectations of the electorate with exemplary level of political responsibility to the legislature and accounta-bility to the electorate. Defection is no doubt an undesirable political practice which extinguishes the flame of democracy and brings darkness, gloom and pollution to the political environment of the country.

Defections should therefore be seen as totally opposed to the spirit of representative electoral democratic process and a grave offence of serious political fraud against the electorate who had placed their faith, trust and responsibility on the legislators to carry out their duties with due diligence, dignity and decorum.

Dr Joseph Abraham is a former member of the Indian Economic Service (IES) and Ex-Principal Adviser, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.

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