Institutional fixes and the need for ethical politics 

#GS2 #Politics #Governance #Constitution 

As Madhya Pradesh politics shows, the anti-defection law continues to be circumvented to bring down governments 

  • In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the BJP machine was still active and able to wrest power in yet another State it lost in the Assembly elections.  
  • The rush to hold a floor test seems to be have been driven by the need to capture the reins of the State before a longer coronavirus lockdown.  
  • Since no other Minister was sworn in, Madhya Pradesh does not presently have a cabinet or a dedicated Health Minister at this time of a health emergency. 

New method of bypass 

  • The political skulduggery in Madhya Pradesh represents a new method of bypassing the anti-defection law and toppling elected governments. 
  • A set of legislators of the party in power is made to resign from the Assembly to reduce the total strength of the House enough for the BJP to cross the halfway mark to form government. 
  • This method of mass defection circumvents the provisions of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (better known as the anti-defection law) that prescribes the grounds for disqualification of legislators: voluntarily giving up party membership and voting or abstaining to vote against party directions. 
  •  While the Supreme Court upheld the disqualification, it stuck down the bar from contesting by-polls. In Madhya Pradesh, since the Speaker has accepted the resignation of the MLAs, the defectors can in any case contest the by-polls. 
  • The recurrence of this model of defection signals the exploitation of the inherent weaknesses of the anti-defection law.  
  • This threatens the underpinnings of India’s electoral democracy since such surreptitious capture of power essentially betrays the people’s mandate in a general election. 

Rethinking the law 

  • This law raises fundamental concerns regarding the role of a legislator in a parliamentary democracy.  
  • It denies the legislator the right to take a principled position on a policy matter and reduces her/him to an involuntary supporter of the whims of party bosses. 
  •  It has not been able to meet its primary objective of preventing horse-trading and continues to be circumvented to bring down elected governments. 
  • These reforms would require a constitutional amendment to the Tenth Schedule, an uphill task under the current circumstances.  
  • Even if these measures are introduced, our politics might come up with other ingenious ways to circumvent them.  
  •  We are facing a deeper challenge of the corrosion of India’s parliamentary system, for even in jurisdictions without such anti-defection laws, we do not see “horse trading” and “resort politics”. 
  • Hence, beyond institutional fixes, we also need a popular articulation of an ethical politics that causes the public to shun such political manoeuvres. 
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