Institutional fixes and the need for ethical politics-THE HINDU-18-04-2020


Late night on March 23, while the nation was vexed with the coronavirus crisis, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the Bharatiya Janata Party was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in a small ceremony at the Raj Bhavan. 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. Kumaraswamy-led Congress-JD government was brought down in July last year in a similar manner with 17 MLAs of the ruling coalition resigning and joining the BJP. Under this novel method, 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. The same practice is likely to be repeated in Madhya Pradesh soon.

Though resignation is not mentioned as a ground for disqualification, the Speaker in Karnataka disqualified them for the rest of the Assembly’s term, thereby barring them from contesting the 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. While solo legislators jumping ship might have reduced now, “horse-trading” seems to have gone from retail to wholesale.

Rethinking the law:

In this context, it is important to examine whether the anti-defection law fulfils any purpose. Zachillhu in a 3-2 verdict upheld the law while reserving the right of judicial review of the Speaker’s decision.

Even if these measures are introduced, our politics might come up with other ingenious ways to circumvent them. As the orders in the Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh cases show, the courts also cannot be relied on much to curb defections. 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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