In the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter of the floor test in the Karnataka Assembly, one item puzzled many: the role of Governor in nominating the Anglo Indian member.
Who are the Anglo Indians?
‘Anglo Indian’ at one time meant British people domiciled in India or descendants of mixed British and Indian parentage, but the latter arguably defines most people who identify by that name now.
Article 366 of the Constitution of India says in the patriarchal way of its times, “an Anglo Indian means a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territory of India and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not established there for temporary purposes only.”
Members of other communities of part-European descent, like Goans with Portuguese blood, or the even tinier community of Armenians, do not call themselves Anglo Indian, despite the Constitutional definition.
In the decades after Independence, many AIs — as the community often refers to itself — migrated, if not to the UK then to Commonwealth nations, mainly Canada and Australia. Those who remained in India have remained uncounted as a community since the 1941 Census, but the current resident population is anywhere between 1.5 lakh and 4 lakh, depending on who you ask (from around 5 lakh at Independence). The AI diaspora is estimated at around 5 lakh.
Why do Anglo Indians have reserved seats?
Frank Anthony was a well-known lawyer and later, an educationist who was founder of the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations which operates the ICSE board of Education and also of the All India Anglo-Indian Educational Trust, which runs several schools named after him. He was also president-in-chief of the Anglo-Indian Association from 1942 until his death in 1993, and a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, representing the Anglo-Indian community.
In the Assembly, he was a part of Advisory Committee and Sub Committee on Minorities. And he had the ear of senior leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. Mr. Anthony, by some accounts, convinced them that since the AIs did not have their own state, and were too small ane geographically spread out a minority to get elected — and therefore represent community interests in Parliament or state assemblies — they needed reserved seats.
What does the Constitution say?
Coming just after Articles on reservations for members of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, Article 331 says, “Notwithstanding anything in article 81, the President may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo Indian community is not adequately represented in the House of the People, nominate not more than two members of that community to the House of the People.” (Currently there are three Anglo Indian MPs: aside from the two nominees in the Lok Sabha, Derek O’Brien is Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party Leader in the Rajya Sabha.) And Article 333 says, “Notwithstanding anything in Article 170, the Governor of a State may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo Indian community needs representation in the Legislative Assembly of the State and is not adequately represented therein, nominate one member of that community to the Assembly.”
These provisions, as with reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, were intended to be phased out 10 years from the date of the Constitution, but regular amendments extended all of them in ten-year increments. As per the 95th Amendment in 2009, Article 334 says the reservations “shall cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of this Constitution.” That is, 2020.
Why has the SC stayed the nomination of the Anglo Indian MLA in Karnataka?
Nominated AI lawmakers can be members of a political party, and even if independents, can join a party within six months of their nomination without falling afoul of the anti-defection law. Mr. Anthony himself, who served as an Anglo Indian nominee in Parliament from 1951 until his death in 1993 — with gaps between 1977-80 and 1989-91 when non-Congress governments were in power — was originally an independent but became a Congress MP in 1980. The current nominees to the Lok Sabha, Richard Hay and George Baker, subsequently joined the BJP.
Even if a nominated MP is an independent, she or he may feel beholden to the party that nominates her or him. And in the case of a hung assembly (or parliament) a single seat can tilt the balance. In the case of a nominated member, this also means that seat is an unelected one.
Also, in this case, the All-India Anglo Indian Association President-in-Chief, Barry O’Brien, wrote to Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala, asking him to not allow the seat to be politicised and used for political gain. He wrote, “In the current situation that has evolved in the state, if a person is nominated to this seat before the ‘floor test’ or ‘vote of confidence’ is carried out to prove the majority in favour of any political party or group, it would be highly unethical and unconstitutional, and cause great damage to the democratic process as well the rights of a minority community. We urge you, Sir, to nominate a person from our community only after the political process of installing a government is completed after the ‘floor test’ or ‘vote of confidence’ has been won by the concerned political party or group, irrespective of who it is.”
Has this sort of situation happened before?
In March 2005 in Jharkhand, just before a floor test, Shibu Soren nominated an Anglo Indian MLA. But BJP leader Arjun Munda petitioned the SC, which told the Governor to not accept the nomination until the vote. Mr. Soren lost, Mr. Munda proved his majority, and then nominated another person to the Anglo-Indian seat.
In Uttarakhand in 2012, also in a hung Assembly, the Congress nominated the Anglo Indian MLA before it proved its majority (which it did, with support from independents and another party), to protests from the BJP.