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Subverting Anti-Defection Law

Highlights

Presiding officers are inordinately delaying decision, giving an opportunity to the defecting legislators to escape from the Anti- Defection Law. This is a clear subversion of democracy

Presiding officers are inordinately delaying decision, giving an opportunity to the defecting legislators to escape from the Anti- Defection Law. This is a clear subversion of democracy

The defection of legislators from Congress and the Telugu Desam Party to the ruling TRS is rocking the Assembly. The ruling and the opposition parties are trading charges over the issue. But, the fact is that both the camps are to be blamed for the present state of affairs. The unethical political system has subverted the Constitutional Provisions regarding the defections. A member of the House would be disqualified from the membership if he or she “voluntarily gives up the membership of the party.” The Constitutional Provision deliberately uses the phrase “voluntarily giving up the membership”. A member need not even resign from a party to attract the provisions of the Anti-Defection Law.

The Supreme Court has already given interpretation for the phrase. A member who publicly opposes the party or state his support for another party would be deemed to have resigned from his or her party. Therefore, the Constitution and its interpretation by the judiciary make it clear that the defected legislators have to be disqualified from the membership of their respective Houses. But, the law gives the decisionmaking power with regard to the implementation of the law to the Presiding Officer. Precisely, the problem lies here. The law states that the Presiding Officer’s decision is final and not subject to judicial review.

The Supreme Court struck down part of this condition. It held that there may not be any judicial intervention until the Presiding Officer gives his order. However, the final decision is subject to appeal in the court. The Constitution believes that the constitutional office acts according to the provisions unless otherwise the case may be. But, the presiding officers are inordinately delaying the decision, thereby giving an opportunity to the defectors to escape from the Anti- Defection Law. This is a clear subversion of democracy. Interestingly, today’s victims are yesterday’s perpetrators and vice-versa. The Dinesh Goswami committee on electoral reforms (1990), the Election Commission and the Venkatachaliah Commission to review the Constitution (2002) have recommended that the decision should be made by the President or the Governor on the advice of the Election Commission.

The Venkatachaliah Commission also recommended that the defector should be barred from holding any ministerial or remunerative political office from the remaining term of the House. This would act as a disincentive for defection. Ultimately, the political culture would determine the efficacy of such a law. Parties and politicians have innovative ideas to subvert the Constitutional Provisions. Unfortunately, the defectors are not punished by the electorate. The parties are ready to receive them on any later date. Political parties are increasingly getting devoid of ideology. Thus, the Constitutional Provisions are held hostage to political expediency. There should be a public debate on the implementation of the Anti-Defection Law to effect necessary changes.

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