Anti-defection law needs reform that negates incentives for horsetrading, removes inconsistencies caused by house speakers and judges

When members of British Parliament or US Congress go against their parties it is always on some legislation or issue where they are in personal disagreement with the party stand or because their constituents are in disagreement with the official party position. Unfortunately, when Indian representatives of Parliament or legislative assemblies defect rarely has it had to do with principles.

Take the ongoing spectacle in Maharashtra were Shiv Sena and Congress are herding their MLAs into hotels. Karnataka saw such an episode just a few months earlier and many other states in recent decades. A number of anti-defection safeguards have been built into law but they have all been toothless. It is now time to tighten the provisions.

The argument that MPs and MLAs must have the freedom to disagree with their parties is persuasive but the counter is that  in a parliamentary democracy people also vote on the basis of a party programme and not just an individual. In that regard, the party must also have a say in the individual’s decision to resign from house membership or defect.

When any MLA/MP affiliated to a party defects or resigns the seat must automatically fall vacant and fresh elections conducted in a time barred manner but only the party that won that seat in the general election can contest with the party symbol while candidates of other parties will have to contest as independents. This gives the electorate reasonable choice in the bypoll and is a disincentive to the party that benefits from horsetrading. Additionally, the defector should not  be allowed to contest elections for the remaining term of the assembly or Parliament.

While this still cannot prevent horse-trading completely the quick conduct of a bypoll and denial of party symbols for all others can arguably act as a dampener. Leaving decisions about defections to the House Speaker and  judiciary is clearly not working. Speakers arrive at decisions that benefit the ruling government of the day while several variants of horse-trading and internal splits in parties have muddled judicial precedents. The inordinate judicial delay in deciding on petitions is another persistent problem that indirectly benefits the ruling government, which may actually be a minority government.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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