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Needed, new measures to strengthen anti-defection laws

Time has come to bring in a suitable legislation to root out the growing trend of horse-trading and corrupt practices by strengthening the Tenth Schedule

February 26, 2021 / 12:48 PM IST
File image: V Narayanasamy (Image: Twitter/@VNarayanasami)

File image: V Narayanasamy (Image: Twitter/@VNarayanasami)

Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy submitted his resignation on February 22, soon after a Motion of Confidence was defeated in the assembly. Polls to the state are due in April-May.

This is the second elected Congress government to fall in less than a year — the earlier one being the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh which fell in March. The grand old party’s alliance government fell in Karnataka under similar circumstances in July 2019. Though there continues to be great pressure on the Congress government in Rajasthan, veteran politician and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has managed to save his government, especially from a serious threat last year.

The modus operandi under all these cases has been the same — a sequence of events which many infamously call ‘Operation Lotus’.

Under this, MLAs of the ruling party (which are usually from the Congress), resign one after the other. It is alleged that this is done under the influence of the money and might of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These resignations continue till the ruling party loses simple majority in the house. A trust vote is called for where the incumbent Chief Minister has no other option but to resign. The MLAs who have resigned either join the BJP or extend support to it, and soon the BJP comes to power in the state.

In Karnataka, 12 MLAs of Congress and three MLAs of Janata Dal(Secular) resigned reducing the HD Kumaraswamy government to a minority one. In Madhya Pradesh, 22 Congress MLAs resigned, and in Puducherry five Congress MLAs and one DMK MLA resigned.

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The 1985 anti-defection law sought to prevent political defections which may be due to reward of office or other similar considerations. The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger.

Since two-third of a party strength in a house is a big number to manage, the number of splits have reduced lately. A recent split was in Goa, where two-third of Congress’ MLAs, 10 out of 15, merged with the BJP in 2019. A similar exercise was seen in Arunachal Pradesh in 2016.

The anti-defection law was framed with the following objectives: (i) to prevent candidates elected based on a party's symbol, manifesto and support to shift to another party, thereby going against democratic traditions, and (ii) to provide stability to governments.

What is clear in recent years is that Operation Lotus has been successful in circumventing the anti-defection laws and defeating its very purpose.

As a thumb rule, any candidate contesting an election gets one-third votes on account of the party symbol, one-third due to top leadership of the party and one-third due to their own image/efforts. Thus the party and its leadership play a key role in getting a candidate elected.

The voters elect an MLA or an MP for a term of five years. Given this, more stringent norms should be instituted for legislators to resign; and even if they are allowed to resign there should be a law which does not permit them from re-contesting on another party’s ticket. Such switching of sides if more often than not done for personal gain — and the tax-payers money is spent on these by-polls.

Critics could argue that an MP or MLA has every right to resign, because barring this would be unfair. In such cases, the runner up could be given a chance to represent the constituency.

Alternatively, the person who has resigned should not be allowed to contest elections from any other seat in the state till the remainder of the term of the house. This is necessary to prevent them from hopping one party to another.

While in this whole process one political party emerges victorious, it is the quality of our electoral democracy that takes a beating. What is happening here is that a political party which did not win the election is gaming the system to emerge victorious. Today it is the BJP that is adopting such techniques; earlier it was the Congress, and in future it could be another political party.

Time has come to bring in a suitable legislation to root out the growing trend of horse-trading and corrupt practices by strengthening the Tenth Schedule.
Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker-turned political strategist and commentator. Twitter: @politicalbaaba. Views are personal.
first published: Feb 26, 2021 12:48 pm

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