Anti-defection law in India
The anti-defection law (10th Schedule to the Constitution) was enacted to enhance the credibility of polity by addressing rampant party-hopping by legislators.
The presiding officer of the house can disqualify a legislator if they:
- Voluntarily give up party membership
- Vote or abstain from voting in the house against the party directions (whip)
- Split to form another party. Mergers of 2/3rd or more members of a party is however valid.
The office of whip, though not mentioned in any statute or rules of the house, is a colonial inheritance, but has a critical role in legislature.
Party Whip acts as a bridge between the party and its elected representatives, and –
- Ensures attendance and discipline
- Garners support on a particular issue
- Regulates and monitors their behavior
- Communicates their opinions to the party and vice-versa.
Indian parliament has been facing a credibility crisis because of frequent disruptions, lack of constructive debates, and bulldozing by the executive (council of ministers) in the legislature. Bills being passed with little or no discussion are emerging as a norm. The political whips and anti-defection law are partly to blame for this because:
- No distinction between dissent and defection – as these provisions treat any divergent opinion as a mutiny.
- Paradox for MPs – who cannot take an alternate stand for their electors, if the party expects them to vote in a predetermined manner..
- Forced consensus – is dictated, which deters constructive debates, and multi-stakeholder participation and deliberation.
- Weakens the foundation of democracy – Adherence to party lines muffles independent voices. This turns the parliament into a game of majority, controlled by the executive.
- Non-uniform application of anti-defection – as the presiding officer has the final say and can potentially play a biased role.
This has led to loss of faith and trust in the legislators, which is alarming for a democracy. Frequent judicial interference is another side effect.
Votes in Parliament need to be votes of conscience and certain steps are needed:
- The issuance of a whip could be limited to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government such as money bills or no-confidence motions. This would enable members to exercise their judgment and articulate their opinion in other situations.
- A legislator should be able to deviate from the party whip with a prior notice if it goes against the interest of his electors.
- The UK model for anti-defection can be followed – expulsion from party, but continues to be an independent member of the house, and can be re-admitted.
- Vesting the decision-making authority on defection to an independent authority like ECI, with clear, time-bound provisions.
The anti-defection law and the whip system reduce the MPs to mere rubber stamps and discourage their active participation in the legislature. The longer route of building consensus on most issues amongst the majority of the legislators concerned, however difficult, is the way forward.