Ideologies used to be the epitome of bureaucratic characteristics. During the Cold War era, such was the importance of political ideology that it governed the world order itself – dividing the world into separate blocs and becoming the very basis of action for every unit in global politics. Yet today, Indian politics have reached a stage where ideologies seem to mean nothing to our representatives.
On multiple occasions, our politicians have displayed that their ideals have a price tag. An overwhelmingly large number of our representatives have jumped ship to join opposing political parties, leaving behind all their promises and loyalties in return for heavier coffers.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, 443 MLAs and MPs have switched parties and re-contested polls between 2016 and 2020. Party leaders are all too willing to welcome these swindlers who they’d previously been relentlessly defaming. Their value is no longer in their ideals but in their votes. A world of ideas is now being governed by cheque books.
Defections have become commonplace in Indian politics over the last few years. It is, of course, very unfair to the voters that elected representatives use their given mandate to represent a different political party and ideology than promised. The citizens of India have become all too familiar with reports of horse trading of MLAs all over the country. Such instances have led people to question what defences our legal structures have against defections – and the constitutional answer to this question is the Anti-Defection Law.
In 1985, the Tenth Schedule of the 52nd amendment to the Constitution of India was passed, a law looking to stop the rampant defections that had plagued Indian politics for over two decades. ‘Aya Ram, gaya Ram,’ politics had led to a lot of instability in assemblies, and so the Anti-Defection Law introduced provisions to delegitimize defections from one party to another.
According to the Law, if an MLA or MP switches allegiances from the party on whose ticket they won the election, they will legally lose their seat in the assembly. An exception would be made if 2/3rd of the total representatives of a party formed a new one or merged with another party. In case of a merger, the concerned members are not disqualified under the Anti-Defection Law.
Initially, the law had a positive impact on the integrity of political formations. However, we live in an unfortunate situation – wherein our lawmakers are often avid lawbreakers. Recently, parties have found loopholes in this law and have begun capitalizing on its weaknesses. The speaker of the house is given immense power – they hold the final decision on whether the office of a seat holder is to be revoked under an Anti-Defection Law case. The speaker gives approvals to resignations as well – and according to the constitution, they have no time limit to give their decisions. This provision has been misused on many occasions since the speaker, usually from the ruling party, is often biased.
An example can be found in Manipur, where a BJP led coalition formed the government after the 2017 elections, securing 32 seats in a house of 60 total seats. Later, 8 congress MLAs joined the BJP, increasing their tally to 40. Under the Anti-Defection Law, these MLAs should have been removed from the house – but the speaker, Y Khemchand Singh, did not take a decision on the cases of these MLAs for 3 years, allowing these MLAs to represent the ruling party for all that time. Moreover, the 2/3rd exception rule has also been exploited in plenty of cases. Recent examples of this include Andhra Pradesh, where 4 out of 6 Rajya Sabha MPs changed parties, and in Arunachal Pradesh, where congress lost state governorship as the Chief Minister and 43 of 45 MLAs left to join the People’s party of Arunachal.
Another loophole in the system is that the Anti Defection Law does not account for resignations. Elected representatives can resign from their office, and in such a case their seat is removed from the house – reducing the total number of seats in the assembly. This in turn also reduces the number of seats needed to form a majority.
Therefore, if enough members from the majority party or coalition resign from their office, the minimum seats needed to form a majority could fall to a degree that allows other parties with lower seat tallies to form a government. Political parties have often utilized this strategy to form governments in states where they do not have a majority by allegedly bribing or coercing MLAs to resign from the majority party. This reduces the tally of seats enough for their party to form a majority – and when by-elections are held for the vacant seats, the resigned MLAs compete for these seats representing the new ruling party instead. In many cases, they win these elections as well – showing a lack of awareness on the part of voters too.
Overall, such MLAs end up keeping hold of their seats while representing another party – it’s essentially defection but with extra steps, and the possibility of pulling off such moves gives minority parties too much power to threaten instability in the ruling government. Examples of mass resignations and subsequent defections into the new ruling government have been seen recently in states like Karnataka, where 21 congress ministers resigned, leading to the fall of the Kumaraswamy led government, and Madhya Pradesh, where 22 MLAs followed Jyotiraditya Scindia out of the congress and eventually into the BJP.
The fact that such politicians are all too willing to leave not only their parties but also potentially their seats in return for financial gains or other benefits reflects their political ethos - it’s a disgraceful look on our politics. These practices are belittling towards the trust of the voters in our institutions, and the Anti Defection Law’s inability to deal with such cases has raised the very real need to open up an inquest into its relevance in the present day. A review of this law is the need of the hour, and it is crucial to bring in new provisions to stop defections for good – lest we risk further compromising on the health of our democracy.
1. Achary, P. (2019). India’s Politicians Have Turned the Anti-Defection Law on Its Head. The Wire. https://thewire.in/politics/anti-defection-law-telangana-congress
2. Staff, T. W. (2021). Nearly 45% of MLAs Who Defected Between 2016 and 2020 Joined the BJP. The Wire. https://thewire.in/politics/mlas-defection-2016-2020-bjp-congress-adr
1. Kartavya Sadhana
2. Times of India
4. ORF Online