Measures Beyond Present Anti-Defection Law Needed to Check Sabotage of Democracy

indian parliament
Parliament house in New Delhi on July 24th 2015. Express photo by Ravi Kanojia.

Urgent measures are needed for ensuring respect to election results and realization of the verdict of people in its true spirit. The anti-defection law was enacted in India was enacted in 1985 and amended in 2003 to check malpractices and corruption arising from elected representatives changing sides ( generally joining the main rival political party) in return for money or other favors. At that time some of these malpractices had been widely criticized. For example in Haryana a legislator named Gaya Lal  ( which even literally means Mr. Going)  changed his political party twice within a single day, leading to people coining a sarcastic name for all such legislators—Aaya Ram Gaya Ram ( Mr. Coming-cum-Mr.-Going).

The anti-defection legislation, to bring which the then Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi showed a lot of initiative, was widely welcomed as a step in the right direction for strengthening democracy. However some loopholes remained and these were misused .

The trend increased greatly in  recent times when this misuse started being promoted at the highest level with a powerful minister in union government becoming a specialist of sorts in manipulation of elected legislators of rival parties including those  known for their loyalty in the past. One way out of doing this would be to encourage the resignations of legislators, even at the risk of disqualification under the anti-defection law, as long as this could dislodge the existing government . In this way and by exploiting other loopholes in the existing legislation, in some states the governments of rival parties can still be made to fall or what is worse, the election results in favor of a political party or a rival alliance of parties ( opposed to the union government ) may not get implemented at all at the level of a state ( or smaller area), making a mockery of democracy and its entire electoral process. This, in addition to allegations of several other malpractices used against rivals, as well as the increasing amassing of funds through electoral bonds by the most powerful party, increasing use of  sectarianism in elections, would make a mockery of democracy and elections. The use of such unfair practices in Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Puducherry etc.  in recent times has been seen with increasing concern as a serious threat to proper functioning of electoral democracy. Already several state governments exist created more by such manipulations than by straightforward, honest election victories. In other states like Telengana, Karnataka and Rajasthan also disturbing trends have  been seen and one does not really know how far these will go.

Hence there is a widespread need for electoral and democratic reform in India, but perhaps the most immediate need just now is for moving further than the existing defection law to check the existing malpractices of influencing and manipulating the rival legislators in such a way that the actual results of the previous election get distorted and sabotaged. For example extremely stringent punishment can be provided for anyone using such tactics or responding to them, together with  setting up special mechanisms for independent quick hearing of such complaints and actions on them. There can be other options. Till such provisions can be provided by legislation ( new law or further amendment of existing law), other legal action can also be initiated to forestall the possibilities of any manipulation or distortion of election results. One stand that can perhaps be taken is that any such manipulations are a violation of the constitution as the verdict of people as expressed in election results is  sought to be changed, distorted, sabotaged using dishonest means and so any such manipulative steps even if they succeed in achieving their narrow results should be treated as unconstitutional and hence any changes brought  by them should be annulled at judicial level.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include When The Two Streams Met (freedom movement ) and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times).




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