Defection, disaffection

The disqualification of dissident Janata Dal (United) leaders Sharad Yadav and Ali Anwar as members of the Rajya Sabha was done in needless haste. Even if it did not violate the letter of the anti-defection legislation, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, could have considered whether it militated against its spirit. In his order, he cited the time-consuming procedural requirements as the justification for not referring the issue to the committee of privileges. Mr. Naidu took the view that all such cases should be disposed of within three months as any delay would be tantamount to subverting the anti-defection law. But neither Mr. Yadav nor Mr. Anwar posed a threat to any government to warrant such fast-tracking of the disqualification process. The decision under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution was sought to be justified on the basis of the argument that the two members voluntarily gave up the membership of their party when they attended political rallies organised by rival parties. Mr. Naidu went by the fact that the faction led by Mr. Yadav did not command a majority within the JD(U) legislature party in the Rajya Sabha. Quite correctly, he did not accept the contention of the two members that it was the JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar who had given up membership of the party by quitting the Mahagathbandhan, the grand political alliance that had brought the party to power in Bihar. It is current political affiliation and not past electoral alliance that is relevant to the disqualification process. However, neither Mr. Yadav nor Mr. Anwar had disobeyed a whip or posed a danger to the stability of any government. Given this, the Rajya Sabha Chairman could have taken the assistance of the privileges committee before deciding the case. It is the fact that he did not exhaust all the procedural avenues before him that has left him open to charges that his ruling has a political hue.

The JD(U) order is the latest in a long list of contentious decisions on disqualification by presiding officers. In many State Assemblies, such disqualification proceedings have had an impact on the very survival of the government, most recently in Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand. Invariably, presiding officers take a politically partisan view, necessitating judicial intervention. India’s party-based parliamentary democracy requires MPs and MLAs to strike a fine balance between their roles as representatives of the people and of a political party. As members of the legislature are elected by votes sought in their own name and in the name of their party, the provisions of the Tenth Schedule should not be misused to stifle dissent, whether inside or outside the House. The anti-defection law works best as an insurance against violation of the people’s mandate for a party, but it cannot be made a tool to stifle all dissent.