An Abuse of Loopholes

I’ll be elaborating on the anti-defection law in India in this article. The loopholes in this law have been taken advantage of a lot in the recent years. The latest political development in the state of Manipur is yet another example of this law being made a subordinate function of power.

What is the anti-defection law?

The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution in 1985. It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House. A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote. This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House. The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

The anti-defection law sought to prevent political defections which may be due to reward of office or other similar considerations.

The Karnataka Crisis

On July 1, 2019, the Congress-JDS led Karnataka Government witnessed a major crisis when 15 Congress and JD (S) MLAs resigned from their assembly seats and sought to present their resignations to the Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly. The Speaker rejected the resignations of some of the MLAs and returned them to be filed in proper form. The five MLAs, whose resignations were in order, were asked by the Speaker to meet him to discuss their resignations. None of the MLAs then met the Speaker. The MLAs then, 10 in number, instead moved the Supreme Court against the rejection of these resignations.

The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari found their disqualification by the speaker constitutional, it did not have to adjudicate the question of whether the speaker’s rejection of their resignation letters was valid.

The Manipur Case

In the March 2017 Assembly election, Manipur saw an indeterminate verdict, with the Indian National Congress emerging as the single largest party with 28 seats in the 60 member House. The Bharatiya Janata Party secured 21 seats. The State Governer, Najma Heptulla, decided the more stable post-poll alliance would be the one the BJP led, though the party needed the support of at least 10 non-BJP MLAs to be in the majority position. The BJP managed to forge an alliance that exceeded the majority mark. But the recent political developments have proven that the cost to be paid for this alliance is too dear now.

The MLAs belonging to the National People’s Party and two independents have withdrawn their support to the BJP-led government. In addition to this withdrawal, three BJP MLAs have defected to the opposition party. These developments have led to uncertainty in the majority of the ruling party. These whimsical shifts in loyalties have once again opened the door for the INC to stake claim to form the government.

Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand are some more examples for such acts. All these examples show the utter failure of the anti-defection law in curbing the brazen subversion of electoral madandates by legislators who get elected on the ticket of one party but do not find it inconvenient to shift to another for financial benefits.

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