Sins of defection

Gaddi And Gaddari

By Poonam I Kaushish

In the monsoon season it is raining Party splitting. One doesn’t know who is sleeping with whom and who is jumping from one bed to another, as friends and enemies are all rolled into one. After all, attracting and accepting elected legislators seems to be the easiest and fastest strategy to come to power. Worse, in these artificially made alignments, we are persuaded to believe that ends justify means. Undeniably, defections are the new normal.
Last week, India stood testimony to brazen horse-trading of 15 Congress-JD(S) MLAs in Karnataka resulting in the downfall of the Kumaraswamy Government and installation of Yediruppa’s BJP Sarkar. It’s another matter that the Assembly Speaker has still to decide on some MLAs defection as resignation or expulsion. Given that ejection would bar the MLA from contesting or holding office for the remaining term of the Assembly.
Shocked? Not at all. In the last one month we witnessed 4 TDP Rajya Sabha MPs out of 6 attaching themselves to the BJP and 10 of 15 Congress MLAs jumping ship to the BJP in Goa Soon enough, three of the defectors were sworn as Ministers. And this was all legal since it met the Anti- Defection Law’s two-thirds limit.
Both classic instances of a deep flaw in the Tenth Schedule which allows one-third members of the Legislative Party to split without inviting the disqualification tag. Think, the parent Congress and TDP has not split, neither has its Legislature wing nor its Parliamentary Party or Lok Sabha MPs so how do 10 MLAs and 4 MPs constitute a merger?
The TDP Parliamentary Party consists of 9 MPs, 3 in the Lok Sabha and 6 in the Rajya Sabha, thus 6 MPs constitute two-third to avoid disqualification. So if only 4 have defected they should be disqualified and not accepted as a merger. The BJP came to power in Arunachal after Chief Minister Khandu switched loyalties in 2017.
A similar strain runs across India from Manipur, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, and Maharashtra whereby with various types of chameleons crossing Party floors the colour of politics is changing. In West Bengal 2 Trinamool MLAs and 60 Councillors joined the BJP end May but early June some did a ghar wapsi. Predictably, Mamata yelled blue murder forgetting she too had done the same to the CPM earlier.
Another new tactic is for the Speaker to simply delay decisions in the case of defections. In Telangana, 12 of 18 Congress TDP defected to the TRS of whom two were appointed Ministers as the Speaker carefully plods through their defection cases. The distribution of Ministerial posts is commonplace aspect of ‘defection’ politics.
Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh, 23 legislators defected from the YSRCP to the TDP between 2014-2019, but none of them were disqualified. Rather than curb corruption, it simply kick it upstairs, making Party bosses the ones pulling the strings rather than a legislator.
In fact, all Parties are culprits and love to poach on the “available and willing” MPs and MLAs. Of course, depending on the price. An example: Fugitive Vijay Mallaya was a favourite with the BJP, Congress and JD(S) who helped him enter the Rajya Sabha as an “Independent” from Karnataka. In 2002 it was the Congress-JD(S) and in 2010 the BJP-JD(S).
Questionably, is defection a Constitutional sin? Yes, averred the Supreme Court in the ex-Uttarakhand Chief Minister Rawat’s case in 2017. Whereby, it underscored that “unholy treacheries are masked as tacit mergers or wholesale defections.” Adding, woefully they are Constitutionally accepted. So what if it has nothing to do with ideology, morality, ethics etc.
Certainly, the Constitution prohibits defections but political compulsions, politics of convenience and opportunism facilitates them. A favoutite ruse is threats, money and muscle power, coercion and enticements. Till yesterday what was a pre-poll phenomenon has become a political strategy of connivance.
Sadly, Speakers are falling prey to their political bias which is casting a long shadow on their Constitution office. Specially, inaction or delay in hearing complaints which go against the interest of the Speakers Party. The Anti Defection law has no provision for Speaker’s delay and inaction. Also, the penalty for defection comes into play after the defecting legislators have destabilized a Government.
Raising a moot point: Is it a deliberate conspiracy to create defects in the law to facilitate defection based manipulations and strategies? Given that the courts can only intervene after the Speaker has given his decision. There have been many cases where the Courts have expressed concern over the inordinate delay in deciding defection petitions, at times till the end of term.
Consequently, in a milieu where Parties multiply like amoeba, splits have become the rule whereby it is easier to ‘buy’ a legislator than fight polls and where paper tigers sell their political soul to the highest bidder taking giant strides as king makers in the political nautanki. The time has come to combat the scourge and plug the glaring loopholes in the Anti Defection Law as it undermines the very foundations of our democracy.
Namely, set a time limit for the Speaker to decide on an MP/MLA’s resignation, change the Tenth Schedule and elucidate defections in the parent Party or its legislative wing and which constitutes a split? The requirement of a preceding split in the organizational Party could prove an effective deterrent. Clarify what is a candidate’s status if he ditches his Party pre-election and joins the rival can he be liable for disqualification if elected?
True, the law does not prohibit defection but not only should a legislator stand disqualified but also not be allowed to contest polls for at least 10 years as by defecting he has subverted the peoples mandate. Presently, even if a defector is denied ministerial and remunerative posts, he can be rewarded in cash and kind for his support.
Besides, Independents are out of its purview. True, there are not many independent legislators at the Centre. Nor do they play a significant role in tilting the balance of power. But at the State level many rebels denied Party tickets have fought elections as independents and won. By and large given the mushrooming of regional Parties the margin between a majority and minority Party are slim. Independents, thus play a crucial role in titling the scales for a particular Party. This should also be banned. When an Independent allies with a Party, he goes against his and the peoples’mandate.
Undoubtedly, changing Parties is a part of politics. But we must distinguish between politics of principles and politics without principles. Clearly, the present law has not been able to control defections and reduce the impact of money and lure of office. Hence, of all legislative reforms tightening and cleaning up the Anti-Defection Law is the most urgent as it only tends to the health of the world’s largest democracy. Notwithstanding, it tantamount to implementing a legal solution to solve a political problem.
In the ultimate, defections and splits need to be effectively tackled. Specially as we Indians have an infamous genius for driving a coach and six through any law. Gaddi and Ghaddari must not go together. Can we look forward to politics of principles and an end to political harlotry? —INFA