Junk the anti-defection law
Chakshu Roy, who heads the legislative and civic engagement initiatives at PRS, persuasively argues that the fundamental flaw in the anti-defection law is that it tries to solve a political issue through a legal solution, and the Band-Aid has absolutely failed. From before the law was passed to after the law was passed, the political issue has remained, which is a legislator crossing from one party to another.
Armed with a brute majority even bigger than Narendra Modi’s, in 1985 the Rajiv Gandhi government penciled the 52nd amendment of the Constitution to insert into it the 10th Schedule, popularly known as the anti-defection law. For nearly two decades up to then, with India really transitioning into a multi-party democracy, not only had defections become a trend but so had the practice of awarding them plum posts. In 2003 the Vajpayee government passed the 91st amendment, which put in even more safeguards against and penalties for defection. By now the ambit of crime and punishment had expanded from a legislator switching parties to a legislator defying the party whip as well.
Today there are calls for making the law stricter still. But these fly in the face of all the evidence, which is that the legal solution is not working at all because it is too blunt a weapon against the sharp exigencies of the political ecosystem. A second counterargument, presented by Harsh Gupta, is that there is nothing undemocratic if legislators change party affiliation midway – they may simply be representing a changing grassroots reality. A third is that the anti-defection law far from helping democracy hurts it, by suppressing its deliberative quality, even squeezing the legislators to toe the executive line on every policy matter.
Today the corruption in defection is impossible to deny. But maybe ‘decriminalising’ it would lessen corruption’s incentives. Let MPs and MLAs switch parties without dragging in resorts, courts, Speakers, Governors, investigating agencies, 24×7 media centrestage. End the imposture. The emperor is not wearing any clothes anyway. Why pretend otherwise.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.