Encouraged by party general-secretary Rahul Gandhi’s advocacy of inner-party democracy, first-time Congress member of Parliament Manish Tewari has moved a Private Member’s Bill to amend the anti-defection law — one of the earliest pieces of legislation initiated by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985.
The amendment seeks to provide freedom of expression to parliamentarians and legislators by freeing them from the fear of loss of membership for toeing a line independent of their respective party positions in all instances other than no-confidence motions, money Bills besides financial matters enumerated in Articles 112 to 117 and Articles 202 to 207.
Maintaining that his amendment should not be construed as going against a pet project of the Rajiv Gandhi dispensation, Mr. Tewari is of the view that while the Xth Schedule — better known as the anti-defection law — served a purpose, it needed fine-tuning to facilitate healthy discussion and debate in Parliament.
In this, he has taken a cue from Vice-President Hamid Ansari who in a November 2009 speech said: “We need to build a political consensus so that the room for political and policy expression in Parliament for an individual member is expanded. This could take many forms…. 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. In other legislative and deliberative business of Parliament, this would enable members to exercise their judgment and articulate their opinion.”
Mr. Tewari has been on this course for a while now, testing the waters by writing a signed article for a newspaper. His submission is that the law as it exists today completely discourages law-makers from “undertaking any serious research, lateral thinking or the search for best practices” for incorporation in Bills under consideration.
As a result, members become disinterested in “constructively contributing to law-making, which is the principal function of Parliament and instead focus their energies on other procedural instrumentalities” like questions, zero-hour mentions and calling attentions.
Being a Constitution Amendment Bill, it will have to be examined by the Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolution before it can be listed for introduction. While he refuses to second guess the fate and ramifications of his attempt to push the envelope, Private Member’s Bills have met with a measure of success: Rukmini Devi Arundale’s Bill to prevent cruelty against animals was followed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Ela Bhatt’s views on sati, which found their way into the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Bill, 1987.