Editorials

Failure of Anti defection Law in Preventing Defections: In context of Recent Maharashtra Political Crisis

Author: Nihal Kumar, 2nd year LL.B. student, Parul University, Vadodara


What is an Anti defection Law? 

The  10th  Schedule of the  Indian  Constitution specifically talks about preventing political defections brought about by the lure of the reward of office or other such offers.  The  Anti-defection law was passed by the  Parliament in  1985,  to tackle the menace of political defections,  make members of parliaments more responsible and loyal to the parties with whom they were aligned at the time of their election, and strengthen democracy by bringing stability to politics,  ensuring legislative programs of the  Government are not jeopardized by a defecting parliamentarian.

Under  the  anti-defection  law,  members  of  a  political  party  can  be  disqualified  and  removed  from  the  membership  of  the  House  if  they  voluntarily  resign  from  the  party  after  being  elected  or  defy  the direction or whip of the party leadership in the House.

Historical Background:

Defection in politics predates Gaya Lal -the Haryana MLA who switched parties thrice in a day in 1967. After finally securing his loyalty, senior Congress leader Rao Birender Singh had then  famously told a press conference in Chandigarh, ‘Gaya Ram ab Aaya Ram hai’. Little did Singh 

 know that the phrase, with some changes in word orders, will turn into a cliché in Indian politics.  About  18  years  later,  In  1985,  in  a  bid  to  curb  defection,  the  then  Rajiv  Gandhi  government  had  brought the Anti-defection law through the 52nd Amendment Act of 1985. 

Current Scenario

Despite  the  anti-defection  law,  political  defections  are  a  common  phenomenon  and  related  proceedings  have  been  going  on  in  various  courts.  The  role  of  the  adjudicating  authority,  usually  the  speaker  of  the  House  is  under  scrutiny  in  most  of  the  anti-defection  cases.  There  were  several  instances  of  delays  in  the  disqualification  process  as  the  speaker  is  not  time  bound  to  decide  on  any case. 

For  instance,  during  2014-18,  multiple  opposition  MLAs  defected  to  the  ruling  TRS  party  and  no  action  was  taken  by  the  speaker  against  these  defectors.  Experts  argue  that  the  speaker  may not be the objective authority to decide on anti-defection cases.

The Maharashtra political crisis and the applicability of the anti-defection law 

In  the  political  turmoil  in  Maharashtra,  Shiv  Sena  leader  Eknath  Shinde  is  claiming  the  support  of  at  least  40  MLAs.  In  this  drama,  anti-defection  law  has  come  into  focus. The  law  was  supposed to end corrupt defections. But it has clearly failed. 

 After  34  MLAs  wrote  to  the  Maharashtra  Governor  pledging  their  support  to  ‘rebel’  Shiv  Sena  MLA  Eknath  Shinde,  the  anti-defection  law  has  taken  centrestage  once  again.  Under  the  anti-defection  law,  if  less  than  two-third  of  the  MPs/MLAs  from  a  single  party  break  away  to  form  a  separate  faction,  or  join  another  party,  then  action  would  be  taken  against  the  MPs/MLAs,  which might lead to their disqualification. Earlier  in  the  day,  Shinde had claimed that he had the backing  of  46  MLAs,  including  7-8  MLAs. Now, Shinde should have the backing of at least  37  MLAs to officially break away from the party without inviting any punishment under the anti-defection law.  In  the 288- member  Maharashtra  Assembly,  Shiv  Sena  has  55  MLAs.  If  Shinde’s claims are to be considered true in nature,  then his camp may have just enough numbers on their side, after deducting the independent candidates, to bypass the anti-defection law. 

 How successful has the Anti-defection Law been? 

Given that Shiv Sena MLAs are plotting their own government’s downfall, clearly the answer is  not very. Politicians have found a way to circumvent the law. In one ingenious solution, MLAs  have started resigning their seats in order to bring out the total strength of the House. As the half-way mark of the House falls, the party that is aiming to replace the government has a better shot of forming the majority. In 2019, the Congress-Janata Dal(Secular) coalition government headed by the then CM HD Kumaraswamy was brought down during this strategy. Later, the  Supreme Court endorsed this strategy as legal, further weakening the already weak  Anti-defection law. 

 Way Forward

As  defections  continue  unabated  and  Speakers  refrain  from  acting  on  these  developments  based  on their political loyalties, there is a strong case to reform the anti-defection law. 

  • Redefining  the  merger  clause,  shifting  the  adjudicatory  power  from  the  Speaker  to  some  other  credible  authority  and  even  dispensing  wholly  with  the  law  are  measures  that  jurists  have  suggested.  Some  believe  that  the  anti-defection  law  should  be  scrapped  as  it  enslaves  members  to  their  party  line,  prevents  them  from  representing  their  constituents  and the people, and violates their freedom of expression. 
  • If defection is a “social and political evil”, then there must be a  disqualification for a particular term of years, as prescribed in the Representation of the  Peoples Act for corrupt electoral practices or conviction in the specified offences.

References 

  1. https://www.dhyeyaias.com/current-affairs/daily-current-affairs/strengthening-anti-defection-la  w-becomes-relevant 
  2. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/maharashtra-s-political-crisis-and-anti-defection-law-h  ow-it-all-might-play-out-1121162.html 
  3. https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/maharashtra-crisis-what-is-the-anti-defection-la  w-and-can-eknath-shinde-can-side-step-it/2569459/ 
  4. https://www.business-standard.com/podcast/politics/what-is-an-anti-defection-law-122062700  045_1.html 
  5. https://scroll.in/article/1026761/what-is-the-anti-defection-law-and-how-will-it-shape-the-mah  arashtra-crisis

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