Preventing political coalitions of convenience

A legal framework can help deal with post-poll alliances

November 26, 2019 12:05 am | Updated 01:38 pm IST

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with Union Minister Piyush Goyal arrive at the BJP party office at Dadar to attend the meeting of the legislative members and core committee.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with Union Minister Piyush Goyal arrive at the BJP party office at Dadar to attend the meeting of the legislative members and core committee.

In a maha -twist in the Maharashtra saga, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) turned the tables on its political rivals with the help of a faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Ajit Pawar. Although a comprehensive picture will emerge only after a floor test takes place, the political manoeuvres in the State following the declaration of Assembly election results raise several pertinent questions of law and propriety.

In all probability, the issue will involve interpretation and application of the anti-defection law. The apex court in Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu had explained the intent behind the law: “The anti-defection law seeks to recognise the practical need to place the proprieties of political and personal conduct — whose awkward erosion and grotesque manifestations have been the bane of the times — above certain theoretical assumptions which in reality have fallen into a morass of personal and political degradation.” In the context of political parties, the apex court added: “The provisions are salutary and are intended to strengthen the fabric of Indian parliamentary democracy by curbing unprincipled and unethical political defections... A political party functions on the strength of shared beliefs. Any freedom of its members to vote as they please independently of the political party’s declared policies will not only embarrass its public image and popularity but also undermine public confidence in it which, in the ultimate analysis, is its source of sustenance — nay, indeed, its very survival.”

Treating coalition as a unit

In a multiparty parliamentary arrangement like India, coalitions have become almost an inevitable reality. Apart from the formal institutional arrangements, for all practical purposes, pre-poll alliances function as a single consolidated unit. The partners do not contest elections against each other. Their cadres and volunteers work for the coalition and not just their individual parties. The voters, arguably, vote for a set agenda and political ideology on whose premise the edifice of both the party and the coalition rest. Democracy is not just about making choices; it is about making ‘informed choices’. The coming together of two or more parties and the agenda set by them is something which a voter considers before casting her/his vote. Therefore, it is argued that until and unless the cases of coalition are covered under the legal scheme of anti-defection, the real object and purpose of the 10th Schedule will not get accomplished.

Even the Law Commission of India, in its 170th report on ‘Reform of the electoral laws’, had opined that a ‘pre-election front/coalition’ of political parties should be treated as a ‘political party’ for the purposes of the anti-defection law.

Demeaning to voters

The political manoeuvring by parties in Maharashtra appears demeaning to the aspirations of the State’s people. To check post-poll ‘alliances of convenience’, wherein even parties with diametrically opposite election manifestos and promises came together to share power, a suggestion can be made. If, for the proper functioning of democracy, disclosure of, inter alia , criminal antecedents, educational qualification and wealth of the candidate is needed, isn’t it pertinent to ask the political parties and individual candidates to disclose a list of ‘probable post-poll alliances’ under a legal framework drafted by Election Commission? This might help the electorate to gauge the level of ideological and political commitment of the parties and candidates. The voters might be in a better position to understand the veracity of the supposed rivalry among different parties. Situations like those in Maharashtra, Haryana and Karnataka post election can possibly be avoided wherein the biggest rivals, after results, become allies by overriding conviction for convenience.

As noted by B.R. Ambedkar in his famous Constituent Assembly speech, “The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State... The factors on which the working of those organs of the state depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.” Democracy cannot be restricted to mere casting of votes and formation of government; it is also about the trust among the voters of an electorate that the mandate given by them will be reflected in the government formed after elections.

Anmolam runs a non-profit organisation called BDLAAAW, and Farheen Ahmad is a research scholar at the South Asian University, New Delhi

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