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Symptomatic of a larger malaise

Symptomatic of a larger malaise
Highlights

The unabashed saga of political defections continues with intensified vigor in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Euphemistically called Operation Akarsh, the phenomena of political defections is symptomatic of much deeper malaise plaguing the democratic polity and public administration. 

The unabashed saga of political defections continues with intensified vigor in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Euphemistically called Operation Akarsh, the phenomena of political defections is symptomatic of much deeper malaise plaguing the democratic polity and public administration.

The law and the Judicial watch dogs of it have earlier stepped in to stop the political rot to uphold the values of Constitution. The classic illustration is the apex court’s active intervention that has set right the democratic derailment due to arbitrary imposition of Article 356 of the Constitution.

But, somehow, the Judiciary has to make a final call on the revision of anti-defection law. Like the Bommai verdict that has once for all checked the misuse of Constitutional provisions regarding the President’s rule, the democratic India urgently needs a historic judicial intervention on the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.

The adjudication power on the question of disqualification lies with the Speaker of the House. This is the major shortcoming of the anti-defection law that has come to light during the course of its implementation. Though the office of Speaker is constitutionally above political partisan interests, the reality is otherwise.

Thus the Speakers often act at the behest of the party that has elevated them to the position. As a result, defections to the ruling party go unchecked. The disqualification petitions remain with Speaker for years together, making the whole exercise of disqualification meaningless.

An urgent amendment is needed to transfer the adjudicating power from the office of the Speaker to an independent and impartial authority that would act above the parochial partisan interests.

Surely, the present ruling parties in both the States are technically right in claiming that they alone are not the perpetrators of this degenerated political culture. But, hope the wisdom of John F Kennedy dawns on the political system. He said, “Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past.

Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” The political statesmanship that owns and defines the future is absolutely lacking. The often quoted reason for defecting to the ruling party is the development of the constituency. In fact, as per the Constitution, development is primarily the executive function.

But, the difference between the executive and the legislature in public perception is blurred. People no longer expect their legislators to contribute to enactment of good laws. They instead demand that their legislators disburse development and welfare benefits.

This changed perception of the role of a legislator in democracy is making the politicians run after the ruling party as it decides the course of development. Often, the ruling party politically strangulates the opposition legislators by denying them due share of developmental funds.

The opposition politicians fear anti-incumbency if they fail to deliver. Thus one cannot deny the partial truth in the claim of defecting legislators that their decision is aimed at ensuring development in their constituency. Instead of fighting with the people in power over arbitrariness in public administration, they fall victim to the arm-twisting tactics of the ruling party.

They are fallible not because it’s inevitable. The story has many more facets. Of late, the postings of officials, especially those who have direct interface with people, are also politically determined. The ruling party obviously has a final say.

The MLA today largely chooses the important police, revenue and other officials to work in his constituency. But this privilege is largely limited to the ruling party legislators. More so in the constituencies represented by opposition members, the defeated ruling party leader influences public postings, thus turning out into a de facto legislator and government. The political strategy to suffocate the opposition legislators makes them vulnerable.

The governments are flush with massive fiscal resources. The government spending for development and welfare programmes is significantly increasing with each passing year. Corruption has become entrenched in all public disbursements. The contractor-politician nexus has become stronger.

The politician from the grassroots to the highest level becomes the chief beneficiary of this huge public spending. The politicians directly or indirectly or through benami names control the contracts. The nexus between politics and public administration is so strong as to deliver bonanza for the leaders close to power. When politics become an investment, the avenues of income determine the course of politics.

The political parties are no longer impregnable. They do not hesitate to give prime political positions to the defectors and those who have come back to the party after deserting it in the hour of crisis. No leader today fears that the doors of the party will be closed for him in case one leaves the party now.

This weakness of political parties is also the reason behind leaders not hesitating to leave the party in search of greener pastures. These lily-livered politicians jettisoning their parties will not harm those parties alone. This trend would ultimately illegitimise the democratic political system.

But, the rapid erosion in the value-based political culture fuels party defections. Politicians and parties do not stand for anything today. There is a homogenisation of political content. Maximising power and prosperity drives the political process.

Political parties that ought to be woven around strong ideological positions now comprise groups of individuals coming together for a convenience. The contract is flexible. Loyalty to a party or a leader is only a function of time. The politicians who make a beeline today to join a party in power do not hesitate even for a moment to make a speedy retreat when the ground level political climate changes.

Thus the ruling party or the party that is likely to win at the hustings will always be the destination for these political sojourners. Politicians are no longer leaders committed to a cause. They are men of straw. Parties are no longer ideological entities offering alternative political perspectives.

They are the assemblage of political cohorts. Political realignment is a euphemism to the brazen political opportunism that can bite any party. As patronage seekers dominate the polity, the phenomenon of defections will further get a fillip.

The massive shift of loyalties in the political landscape is ultimately justified in a democracy when they receive people’s sanction. There is no discernible trend in Indian polity indicating people’s disenchantment with the politics of defection. Quite often the defectors return to the legislature with impressive margins which validate their stand.

Even if someone calls it unethical or immoral, it’s perfectly legal. Instead of questioning the very culture of defections, the debate over it is often centered on the question of disqualifying them only.

The unrelenting gales of defections may seriously jeopardise the viability of opposition politics vital for the multi-party political system. The electoral cycles throw up fluctuating political fortunes.

No party can claim a perennial monopoly over power. The histories of world democracies illustrate this simple truth multiple times. As victims become perpetrators, the perpetrators can become the victims. But all this inflicts severe wounds on democracy.

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