Back to the House: On Madhya Pradesh Assembly bypolls

Bye-elections do not necessarily generate the same buzz as Assembly elections in India. After all, they are typically held to replace incumbents who might have moved on to other public roles or are deceased or incapacitated, preventing them from representing their constituencies. This lack of enthusiasm has generally rendered bypolls as contests where the ruling party in a State is hugely favoured. There is little desire by voters to upset the apple cart. More so in States where the politics of patronage influences voter decisions, voting the representative of the party in power can be understood as a rational choice. It is therefore not surprising that the BJP and other ruling parties have won a large majority of the Assembly bypolls — their results were announced on Tuesday. Yet, the story in Madhya Pradesh had an additional wrinkle. The 28 seats were keenly contested because these had elected Congress MLAs in 2018 and the vacancies arose on their defection to the BJP in an event orchestrated by senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. The defections had shifted the government to the BJP within months of the Assembly elections. The BJP’s wins, in 19 seats, were made possible by Mr. Scindia’s clout in the Gwalior-Chambal belt besides the BJP’s added strength. The Congress can take some solace in the fact it could wrest back nine seats lost to defection. But with these wins, the BJP has won an absolute majority and secured its government.

A defection of a significant number of MLAs elected on one ticket and then overturning governments is bad advertisement for governance in India. These events were once common in smaller State Assemblies but have occurred in two large States, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, recently. Here, the defectors have returned to the Assembly via the bypolls, a fact that could raise the question whether voters are concerned about defections as a moral issue. One charitable reason for this preference could be that voters might not want yet another churning and instability, in turn helping defectors retain their seats. The other reason could be that legislators in States such as M.P. and Karnataka have been chosen to represent parties less due to ideological or principled positions and more for abilities to run electoral campaigns and make use of social equations in their respective seats. So, it could be understood that voters have found little differentiation in representation from ruling and Opposition parties even in the aftermath of defections. As required by the anti-defection law, the defectors returned to voters for a fresh mandate, and many obtained it too. Clearly, defections cannot just be done away with through legislative action unless they are seen as immoral by voters as well.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 1:44:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/back-to-the-house-the-hindu-editorial-on-madhya-pradesh-assembly-bypolls/article33077962.ece

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