Political malady and legal remedy

Updated - November 17, 2021 06:30 am IST

Published - September 19, 2016 02:12 am IST

Those looking for loopholes are always one step ahead of those seeking to plug them. For decades, since the ‘aaya ram, gaya ram’ days of Indian politics, Parliament and courts have been coming down on mass defection and frequent change of party loyalties. But no piece of legislation is a deterrent when politicians, for what are usually self-serving reasons, decide to switch parties. After the Supreme Court restored the > Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh in July, most of the party’s MLAs returned under the leadership of a new Chief Minister, Pema Khandu. But, in a couple of months, they have again deserted the Congress to join the People’s Party of Arunachal, a constituent of the North-East Democratic Alliance, > a front led by the Bharatiya Janata Party . The reason adduced for the switchover is laughable: to have better relations with the BJP-led government at the Centre. In effect what the MLAs have done is get over the legal hurdles to defection. Once the Supreme Court restored the Congress government of Nabam Tuki, those who had deserted the party returned on condition that Mr. Khandu, and not Mr. Tuki, be the Chief Minister. This must have seemed the easiest way to stay in power for those who had allied with the earlier government of Congress rebels led by Kalikho Pul. Now, in a replay of the mass defection, the Congress rebels have taken care to play by the book. There is no unseating of the government, no withdrawal of support by the ruling party’s MLAs. Instead, the change is neat and clean, from a Congress government to a pro-BJP PPA government. The Governor had no role; and a legal challenge to the realignment is made that much more difficult.

Several legislative efforts have been made to curb defections. The 52nd Constitution Amendment provided for disqualification of defectors other than in the case of a split in the party, involving a group of not less than one-third of its members. A later amendment disallowed splits, and provided only for merger in cases where at least two-thirds of the members of one party merged with another party. This too did not prove to be a deterrent, as has been evident in Arunachal Pradesh. True, defections engineered through unscrupulous means undermine democratic institutions and subvert the people’s mandate. But, so far, the cure for this malady in the form of legislation does not seem to have had any effect. When defection is made more difficult, the means adopted become even more inventive. Ideally, the matter of dealing with defection should be left in the hands of the voters. Legal remedies to what is essentially a political issue will never work.

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