With the resignation of Kamal Nath, former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the political turmoil brewing in the state for the last couple of weeks finally gave way to a grim yet expected outcome i.e. the collapse of the Congress-led state government paving way for the BJP to reinstate itself to power. The disturbance commenced with the royal descendant Jyotiraditya Scindia, a prominent political figure in the country, renouncing his membership of the Congress party after having served it for almost 18 years and later joining the BJP, whose ideologies and governance model he has vigorously criticized multiple times in the past.
Of course, he was not alone and 22 other MLAs loyal to him followed him in this act of defection. It is well known that the reason for this political adventurism was Scindia’s own aspirations and his personal rivalry with the party leadership in the state. However, the outcome is not at all personal or limited to the few individuals involved, as it has led to the collapse of a democratically elected government in the state.
This entire episode leaves one in a state of déjà vu as a similar round of events were witnessed in Karnataka during the latter half of last year when the Congress-JD(S) coalition government crashed because of various enterprising legislators resigning from their party and later joining their rivals. That is not to say that BJP alone indulges itself in such unethical practices to gain power. This unpleasant and immoral act is not party-specific as the nature of politics today has plunged to a level that political parties don’t abstain from adopting any means, legitimate or otherwise.
Thus, it is imperative to detach ourselves from our political orientations and focus on the erroneous path this democracy is heading. This shifting of allegiance of legislators from one party to another is not only immoral but also strictly against our constitutional ethos. To make the matters even worse, those defaulting legislators face no serious consequences as neither the legislature nor the judiciary itself is sufficiently equipped and motivated to address the problem.
The very famous Anti Defection Law, which was introduced in the constitution to prevent exactly this swaying of legislators has not proved to be very effective (to say the least). Defaulting MPs or MLAs either use resignations as a way to circumnavigate the punitive actions under the law or even if disqualified for the act of defection, they get the opportunity to be re-elected and re-enter the house, as witnessed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the disqualified Karnataka MLAs case last year.
Political defections are disastrous. There are three main reasons why this hoping of MPs/MLAs across parties is perilous and must be prevented.
First of all, in a multi-party democracy like India, people vote for the party and not for the candidate. Barring a few renowned leaders who win the voters by their own personal charisma or political legacy, most of the legislators get elected in the name of the party. Voters simply press the button looking at the party symbol having little idea about the individual representing it. The reason for this is that people attach themselves to a particular political ideology and want to see a government motivated by that ideology.
If a candidate, after getting elected on a party ticket, abandons his party, by whatever means, and joins another party, it is a betrayal of the mandate as the majority of people wanted to be represented by some other party. If a number of such elected members defect (or resign) resulting in the downfall of the government and some other party (mostly the opposition) ascends to power, it is a colossal defeat of the democracy that the mandate was for one party, yet power goes to some other party. The majority wanted to be governed by one ideology, yet, they are subjected to the rival ideology. What then is the point of conducting elections and seeking the majoritarian view? This simply results in the casualty of democracy.
Next comes the destabilizing effects it has on the government. A five-year term is already not enough for any long term policy implementation or to bring about any significant change in the life of the citizenry. Add to it, the frequent elections which take place either in the states or the centre which take away a huge chunk of the government’s time and efforts. Political parties, especially the national ones, are almost always in the election mode. If the ruling party is always absorbed in the efforts to secure its electoral advances, the time available for effective governance is significantly reduced.
Electoral reforms to address this problem including simultaneous elections are being discussed, but various other concerns make it uncertain if and when they shall be implemented. If the matter is further worsened by the ruling party earnestly engaging in either preventing its own members from defecting to other parties to avert the downfall of its government, or in poaching members from other parties, more important issues of society are bound to skip its attention. The term ends in this fashion and the political parties once again set out seeking votes on the same perpetual issues, blaming the previous governments for all the problems.
The final and probably, the most critical problem is the propagation of a culture of corruption. It is no secret that corruption is embedded in deep layers of politics. This is only further manifested when a person chosen by lakhs of people to serve as their representative, out of his personal greed, surrenders himself in the ill-famed political market, only to be bought and sold by the political parties like speechless cattle.
It paints such an ugly picture for the world to see when publicly elected representatives are locked up in hotels and resorts in order to prevent the horse-trading by political parties as if they have no conscience of their own and can really be traded like horses.
This is not only shameful for a country like India which prides itself for its constitution, its democratic institutions and processes but is also a clear insult of the judgement of voter for placing his trust in the hands of a person who has no voice of his own and can be poached like animals.
Hence political defections, even though disguised in the form of voluntary resignations, are extremely unhealthy for the future of our democratic polity and steps must be taken to avoid such acts in all forms. The Supreme Court’s advice to the parliament in the Karnataka MLAs disqualification case in 2019 to strengthen the Anti-Defection Law and plug its loopholes, if acted upon, can be a decisive step in this direction.
The law must be amended so that it acts as a deterrent for members of house planning to defect for their personal gains, and must contain punitive measures to adequately punish them, should they choose to do so. Moreover, legislation must be brought to penalize the political parties indulging in such unethical and undemocratic means to establish themselves in the corridors of power.
The apex judiciary also, in its role as the interpreter of the constitution, must ensure that such defectors do not benefit from the vacuum in the constitution, and must uphold the spirit in which the law was enacted.
Finally, the onus lies on the electorate to hold its representatives accountable, if, after being elected, they deviate from their prior commitments or shift their allegiance to other political ideology or party, and to punish them in the next elections.