Our Democracy Needs to Be Better. Fixing This Law Might Make All the Difference

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By Rinchen Norbu Wangchuk

We, the people, must demand more of our legislators. Only then, we can truly call ourselves a representative democracy

Is our democracy truly representative? On the face of it, we are. Our parliamentarians are elected every five years, directly or indirectly. And unlike our neighbours, India conducts regular elections that are largely free and fair.

Having said that, there is a lot more we should be asking of our elected representatives. However, the biggest stumbling block for us is the anti-defection law.

For representational purposes (Source: Flickr/Yogesh M)
For representational purposes (Source: Flickr/Yogesh M)

In an attempt to check the frequent ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’ defections by legislators, the anti-defection law was passed in 1985 through the 52nd Amendment to the Constitution, which added the Tenth Schedule to the Indian Constitution. This happened under the Rajiv Gandhi government.

“The evil of political defections has been a matter of national concern. If it is not combated, it is likely to undermine the very foundations of our democracy and the principles which sustain it,” said the bill’s Statements of Objects and Reasons.

Parliament (For representational purposes sourced from Facebook)
Parliament (For representational purposes sourced from Facebook)

As per law, the legislator becomes a defector if he/she abstains or votes contrary to the order passed by the party whip, who invariably is appointed by the party leadership.

“The crux of arguments against defection is that candidates secure votes because of their affiliation with a political party. Defecting from that party violates the trust of voters and leads to political instability. Added to it is the role of money and the promise of power that is used to engineer defections, leading to the erosion of our political processes,” says Chakshu Roy, the head of outreach at PRS Legislative Research, in a recent column for Scroll.in.

The problem with this is the assumption that the structure of inner-party democracy is strong. In reality, except for one or two parties, which at least have a semblance of inner-party democracy, the rest are basically one-man or one-woman shows, restricted to a coterie of powerful individuals.

Subsequent judgements by the Supreme Court has tightened the leash on our legislators further. As per a 1994 ruling, even criticising the party’s own policies has its consequences for legislators.

“Even in the absence of a formal resignation from membership, an inference can be drawn from the conduct of a member that he has voluntarily given up his membership of the political party to which he belongs,” the apex court said in its ruling.

Strangely enough, the courts have not come to any definitive consensus on this 1994 ruling.

On the one hand, the apex court’s 1996 ruling states that lawmakers expelled from their party can still retain membership of Parliament, but are still bound by the directives of the party whip.

Subsequently, in 2010, the court protected two expelled Samajwadi Party leaders from disqualification even though they had ignored the orders of their party whip. The court is yet to make up its mind.

Amidst all this flux, the Speaker of the House or Assembly is expected to play the role of an impartial authority in determining the validity of these cases. Recent history, however, has shown Speakers as instruments of party leadership. Fortunately, their decisions are subject to judicial scrutiny.

Source: The Better India

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