in The Economic Times
by Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan
verdicts and political shenanigans
continuing political uncertainty in Jammu and Kashmir after
the courageous participation of voters, braving bullets and
bombs, once again exposes the shenanigans of our politicians.
The murky politics of power and dissidence in our largest
state of UP too expose the increasing divorce between people's
mandates and government formation.
Democracy is about people's verdict and peaceful change. If
the vote becomes merely a power of attorney to allow a legislator
to do as s/he pleases after election, and if all we get from
our representatives is unbridled lust for power and pelf regardless
of public good, then democracy is reduced to a medieval power
game. This propensity to undermine people's verdicts and hop
parties at will was best illustrated by the shameful events
in the last UP Vidhan Sabha.
Tenth Schedule of the Constitution incorporated in 1985
through the 52nd Amendment was greeted with great relief
by all advocates of political morality. However, its spirit
was violated on innumerable occasions. And in UP in October
1997, even the letter of supreme law was ignored with impunity.
The people elected 66 BSP members to UP Assembly. 12 of
them violated party directive and voted for the Kalyan Singh
government during the confidence vote in October'97. Though
the Constitution mandates that defecting members violating
party whip should be disqualified if they do not constitute
one-third of the legislature party, the then Speaker, Kesrinath
Tripathi refused to act. In an audacious piece of political
chicanery, the Speaker held that the whip issued by Ms Mayavati
as leader of the BSP in the House was not valid as it was
not issued by an authorized person within the meaning of
para 2(1)(b) of the Tenth Schedule! Supreme Court is yet
to hear the appeal filed in that case!
In all mature democracies, an acceptable political culture
has evolved over a period of time, and defection for personal
gain or violating people's verdict is unthinkable. In an
evolving democracy it is hard to sustain politics of principle
without the aid of legal provisions and strong institutions.
The Tenth Schedule discourages individuals from straying,
but rewards collective defection. As a result splits are
engineered, and constitutional coups are planned with meticulous
precision. Politics is reduced to a numbers game without
any sense of fairness, principle or obligation to the electorate.
The UP case showed that partisan Speakers can violate even
the Constitution with impunity.
There is another major unintended consequence of the Tenth
Schedule. Once the law provided that violation of party
whip on any vote attracts disqualification, party legislators
who may honestly differ on a piece of ill-conceived legislation
are now forced to submit to the will of the leadership.
The use of whip to force Congress MPs to vote for Muslim
Women's Bill in 1987 to undo the Supreme Court verdict in
Shah Bano case, and the shameful episode of Congress members
abstaining on party orders during the vote in the impeachment
case of Justice Ramaswamy are two particularly ugly instances
which undermined our democracy and society on account of
this mindless obedience. Clearly, all legitimate dissent
is stifled and smothered, whereas collective plunder of
the state goes on merrily unchecked.
Obviously major reforms are needed in the anti-defection
provisions if we are to preserve even the limited sanctity
of electoral verdicts:
" Defections, by individuals or groups, should incur
" If there is indeed a legitimate split of a party,
it should first take place in the formal party organization
with adequate public notice and through voting. Only after
a party splits in a transparent and public manner should
the dissenting group be recognized in the House as a separate
party. A sudden overnight change of heart by a group of
legislators and midnight meetings with the President or
Governors cannot be recognized as split of a party, no matter
what proportion the 'splitting' members constitute.
" All such members who split a party should be prohibited
from holding ministerial office for at least one year.
" The scope of whip should be limited only to such
issues, voting on which will bring down the government or
undermine people's verdict. In effect, whip and disqualification
should only apply to vote on confidence or no-confidence
motions, finance bills, and legislation introduced to fulfill
the main planks of the electoral manifesto of the party
which assumed office. A whip in all other circumstances
should be prohibited. Given the formidable power of party
bosses, fears of large-scale indiscipline without whip on
every vote are unfounded.
" Finally, we can no longer trust presiding officers
to enforce the anti-defection provisions, when the political
stakes are high. Therefore, the Election Commission should
be the competent authority to decide on disqualification.
A democracy can survive only when rule of law is respected.
If the process of power itself is vitiated and no rules
of conduct apply, soon the state is seen as illegitimate,
and governance is reduced to constitutional brigandage.
The parties have great stakes in amending the anti-defection
provisions for their own survival and credibility. Can we
trust our legislators to exhibit a modicum of enlightened
self-interest, and end this scourge of defections?