By Mohd Naushad Khan

Every time a government is overthrown by a defection we are reminded of the use and misuse of Anti-Defection Law. The exemptions for defectors provided in a clause in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution do not stop lawmakers from switching parties. A complete revision of the law is urgently needed because defection is a mockery of representative politics and functional democracy.

The recent political turmoil in Maharashtra reminds us of the final day of the Constituent Assembly. When the Constitution was dedicated to the people, BR Ambedkar made some farsighted remarks which are very relevant even today. He said, “However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.”

These visionary statements appear to be true whenever we do not try to implement the provision of our Constitution in letter and spirit. Although the anti-defection statute was modified in 2003, it has utterly failed to achieve its goals. Instead, it’s frequently applied to legalise defections.

According to Professor Iqbalur Rehman, Chairperson Department of Political Science AMU, “Anti-Defection law needs revisiting by me to say anything academically and in the context of Maharashtra. My understanding of the law is it has been politically made meaningfully irrelevant and impractical. In the context of coalition politics Defection is conveniently orchestrated. The institutions of state serve as instruments of defection for the political parties. Morally deprived leaders and representatives under duress prefer to defect. This kind of defection becomes politically and personally gainful and who would not want to defect.”

Praveen Rai, a political analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi said, “The anti-defection Act was passed in 1985 to minimise frequent party hopping of elected legislative members and turncoat politics. The Act disqualifies MPs/MLAs elected on the symbol of a political party from ‘voluntarily relinquishing membership or joining another party’. If they do so, they lose membership in the legislature, but the law allows two-third of the party legislatures to join another party or form a separate group. The Act has been under the public scanner since long for its inadequacy to deal with defections holistically with few calling for scrapping it altogether while others demand amendments with provision for stronger enforcement.

“The recent defections of MLAs in Maharashtra and Bihar bring to the fore the benefits and drawback of this Act and the reasons for its political overhauling. In Bihar, the defection of 4 out of 5 MLAs of AIMIM to RJD reveals that smaller parties fail to keep the legislative flock together due to weak institutionalisation, deficit of ideological and party identification values and inherent vulnerability to horse-trading.”

Rai added, “However, in Maharashtra the defections in Shiv Sena happened due to internal rebellion against dynastic leadership, incompatible electoral alliance with the NCP and the Congress and more importantly the dilution of its core Hindutva programme. If defections in Bihar were for the lure of money, defections in Maharashtra provided the majority of the MLAs to exercise their will and further democratise electoral politics. The best way to course correct is to completely ban defections in small states (100 seats and less) and minor parties with less than 30 MLAs to stop buying and selling of people’s representatives and restore political accountability.”

“A bunch of MLAs moving out of Shiv Sena is a manifestation of mockery of democracy by the centre. What happened in Maharashtra is not unprecedented; we have seen such things happening in Karnataka, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh and in many other states. The purchase of elected representatives of parties with the use of muscle and money power has made us to think of a strict reform in the democratic process,” said Dr. Maskoor Ahmad Usmani, Congress leader and former President, AMU Student’s Union.

He added, “It’s not merely a question of power rather a breach of trust with the voters also. For settling its own political vendetta, the Centre has plotted this gamble in Maharashtra. What has happened recently is an abuse of the Constitution and constitutionality. Bihar already had a pre-poll alliance with a small party; members of VIP party (Vikassheel Insaan Party) were later inducted into BJP, suspending party supremo from the cabinet.

“What happened with another smaller party like AIMIM is that their MLAs are afraid that they couldn’t win again from that party and there is a sense of insecurity not destabilising the government but in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh the established government has been quashed. Five years tenure should be fixed and the rule of 2/3rd members claiming to be a new party should also be quashed.”

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