a result splits are engineered, and constitutional coups
are planned with meticulous precision, and careful conspiracy.
Several parties 'split' even in Parliament, and as the JMM
case testifies, the defecting members benefited immensely.
1997 case of defections from BSP in UP proved how partisan
speakers could actually create new arithmetic while applying
anti-defection provisions! Twelve of the 69 legislators
of BSP violated party whip, and in a perverse order, speaker
Kesari Nath Triapthi refused to disqualify them, though
they clearly constituted less than a third of the legislature
party. The matter went to courts, and died a natural death
as their lordships could not come to conclusion before the
expiry of the term of the house on the weighty issue of
what number constituted a third of 69! Recently in January
2003, the roles are reversed, and Mayavathi engineered defection
of 8 MLAs in the 23 member congress legislature party, and
the same speaker Kesari Nath Tripathi recognized them as
a separate party instead of disqualifying them!
is however one major unitended consequence of anti-defection
provisions. The intention was to prevent change of power
in gross violation of popular mandate. But in effect, violation
of party whip on any vote attracts disqualification. Party
legislators who may honestly differ on a piece of legislation
are now forced to submit to the will of the leadership.
The ill-conceived legislation on Muslim women's maintenance
after the supreme court verdict in Shah Bano case is one
sad example. If the congress MPs had freedom of choice,
that Bill would never have become law. That folly, and the
resultant outcry forced Rajiv Gandhi to overcompensate to
appease the enraged public. Unlocking the gates of the disputed
structure in Ayodhya, the silanyas under the watchful eye
of Buta Singh, the then Home Minister, and the launch of
Rajiv's 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya with the promise
of Ramraj - all these followed. The rest is histotry. An
even more shameful episode is the direction issued by congress
party to its MPs not to vote on the impeachment proceedings
against Justice Ramaswamy in 1991. Consequently, judicial
accountability collapsed, and eventually power of appointment
of judges has been usurped by the judiciary!
that the cabinet decided to amend the anti-defection provisions,
the opportunity must be utilised to remove these distortions.
While defection by one or many should incur disqualification,
three safeguards are needed to ensure healthy parliamentary
debate, and curtail autocratic tendencies of party bosses.
party whip, and disqualification for violation must apply
only for a vote affecting the survival of government - money
bills, and confidence or no-confidence motions. On all other
issues, members should have freedom of vote. Second, there
should be recognition of legitimate splits in a party. If
party bosses are utterly autocratic, or if their policies
are blatantly unconstitutional, then the members must have
an opportunity to rebel, and even split the party. On such
occasions, the split should first take place in the party
fora in a transparent and public manner after a statutory
notice of, say at least a month, and after the members or
delegates are allowed a free vote. A resultant split in
the legislature wing should be recognized irrespective of
the proportion the splitting members constitute. Third,
past evidence clearly suggests that a partisan presiding
officer loyal to the government cannot be trusted with the
power to decide on disqualification. That power rightfully
belongs to the Election Commission. Parties would do well
to act with foresight and make the EC the final authority
on all such matters.
If these safeguards are incorporated, the new amendment
will be a huge step forward in eliminating horse-trading
and promoting clean politics. But without such checks against
autocratic party bosses, the proposed amendment will further
enslave legislators. Then there will be no need for legislative
debates at all. Party bosses can sit together like tribal
chiefs - a la Loya Jirga- and decide the nation's fate by
simple arithmetic addition without debate! The nation can
be spared of much expense and needless theatrics.