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Anti-Defection Law: A Blessing or Disaster?

Article by Paras Gupta

(Student at Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra)


Introduction The Anti-Defection Law or 10th Schedule of the Constitution of India was interpolated in the Constitution in 1985 by the 52nd Amendment Act in order to discourse the perceived problem of the Members of Parliament (MPs) / Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) shifting their loyalties from the parties they supported at the time of election or defying their parties at perilous times such as during voting on a cardinal resolution. The anti-defection law intended to provide a stable government by ensuring that legislatures do not switch sides and reduce governments to a minority mid-way during the tenure. But since its enactment to halt the malaise of defections, it was ordained for failure. The main objective for which the Anti-Defection law was introduced was to combat “the evil of political defection” but so far it has failed to fabricate results as the instances of political defections still continue unabated. Although it has been interpreted several times by the Apex Court, it has failed to fulfill its purpose and bring an end to the increasing instances of defection.

Impetus behind the enactment of Anti-Defection Law Initially, the constitution carries no reference to the political parties. The need for the counter abandonment law arose in the late 1960s as defections brought about great instability in the political framework. The 1967 elections marked the dawn of the consortium era. Between 1967 and 1971, close to 142 MPs and over 1,900 MLAs defected their ideological groups. In 1967, Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice in a day, inspiring the phrase “Aya Ram Gaya Ram” in the Indian politics. Constant defection led to the fall of governments both at the center and the states. As a result, the Rajiv Gandhi government brought a bill to curb defections that came into effect on March 1, 1985 and later amended in 2003 by the 91st Amendment Act making a defection by 2/3rd member of a party valid.

Unabated instances of Defections in India The instances of defections continue unabated in India with most of them leading to the falling of the ruling government. Even Rajya Sabha cannot abstain from the occurrences of defections as 4 out of 6 TDP members resigned and joined the tragedy benches. The Karnataka political crisis, in which 15 MLAs of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly resigned, with the former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy being defeated in a no-confidence motion is a sterling locus classicus of the inefficaciousness of anti-defection law. Moreover, in 2017, in a similar case of defection in Tamil Nadu, after J. Jayalalithaa’s death, 18 MLAs of the ruling AIADMK were precluded. Goa too cannot persist abstained from defection as 10 of the 15 Congress MLAs switched to BJP (although it was valid as the merger of 2/3rd of the MLAs of the ruling party is legal under Anti-Defection law). Similarly, in Telangana, 12 of the 16 Congress MLAs merged with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) resulting in the party’s Telangana State Unit Chief Uttam Kumar Reddy tendering his resignation from the Assemblyi.

Dereliction of Anti- Defection Law Over the last three decades, the Anti Defection Law has completely failed at its purpose with the falling of governments in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and common defection in Goa. The recent crisis in Rajasthan politics has brought renewed focus on the Tenth Schedule and the scheme enshrined in that political provision. The anti-defection law provides that individuals from the ideological groups who disobey the whip or vote against the party in a confidence motion will confront disqualification. As contemporary episodes have made clear, however, the 10th schedule is no longer effectual in ceasing the marvel of defections in India. Time and again, the courts have expressed concern over the delay in deciding the petitions on the defection. The law does not stipulate a time period to decide on the disqualification of the legislatures by the presiding officer leading them to continue their memberships of the house. The Tamil Nadu’s speaker three-year delay in deciding the defection petitions of 11 ruling party MLAs and the delay of the Andhra Pradesh speaker in deciding the petitions of defection by the opposition MLAs leading the defected members to become ministers in the government are the vivid illustrations of the impotence of the 10th Schedule. Moreover, the taking of the Goa Speaker to the court for delaying the decision on defection proceedings and the intervention of the Supreme Court in stripping a minister of his office as the Manipur Speaker failed to dispose of the defection proceeding are virtuous instances of the inefficaciousness of the anti-defection law in curbing the ceaseless instances of defection in India.ii


Conclusion The phenomenon of defection has been plaguing the Indian political landscape for many decades. Over the last 35 years, the Anti Defection Law has proved futile but succeeded in severely damaging the legislative framework of India, with a chilling effect on deliberations in the house. Although its underlying ethos is noble with the purpose of preventing party hopping, ensuring that the candidates are loyal to the party, and also to curb dissent against the party policy but an urgent reconsideration is required on its existence as it has failed in preventing legislators from shifting loyalties and switching their sides whenever they want to. Innumerable endorsements have been made in the past to curb the shortcomings in the Anti-Defection law and review the existing law but what’s the need of the hour is to take a bold step of scrapping the anti-defection law before it does more damage to the legislative institutions and democracy in India.

Endnotes:

i. Anti-Defection Law in India, RSTV-IN DEPTH, https://diligentias.com/what-is-the-anti- defecation-law-in-india-rstv-in-depth/.

ii. The Anti-Defection Law has failed. It Is time to scrap it, Hindustan Times,

https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/the-anti-defection-law-has-failed-it-is-time-to-scrap- it/story-BCTMzgsgLiqHzrOxqSucCM.html

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