TODAY -

Anti Defection Law: Big Debate
- Manipur Speakers did make news -

Nirendra Dev *



The Anti Defection Law and the 'quasi judicial powers' of the Speaker of state assemblies and Lok Sabha have yet again come under judicial as well as public scrutiny. The future polity of leaders such as Sachin Pilot, the Congress party in Rajasthan and to an extent the future of the grand old party at the national level could be decided by some of the related developments.

Incumbent Rajasthan assembly Speaker C P Joshi, a former in-charge of north east Congress and who is blamed for the grand old party's debacle in the region, has moved Supreme Court himself. But here, we focus on some state assembly Speakers who made news vis-a-vis the powers given to them under Chapter 6 of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, the anti-defection law.

Interestingly, the law was enacted in 1985 during the Rajiv Gandhi era and for some years since then many thought the infamous 'Aya Ram Gaya Ram (Mr Come, Mr Go)' syndrome of Indian politics could soon become a thing of the past.

However, by 1990 as the V P Singh government took charge of governance in the country, defection games started soon and it also came to light that defection is something inherent - like the darkness underneath a lamp!

Here is an interesting piece of info: between 1967 and 1972, the country had witnessed around 2000 defections. Now let us take the clock back to the murky and shaky politics of 1990 and see how some Speakers in state legislatures made 'news' or rather hit headlines vis-a-vis the backdrop of Anti Defection Law.

The tiny state of Goa was perhaps the first state assembly where Anti Defection Law (then requiring one-third of party strength) came into play. But here it was a smooth sail. Luis Proto Barbosa was the state assembly Speaker.

As the Congress suffered 'defection', Barbosa himself was the "leader of the dissident group" and he gave recognition to the 'split' in the ruling camp and rushed to the Raj Bhawan to stake claim to form a new government. Barbosa, who otherwise has been a towering Goa politician, served as the Chief Minister for eight months in 1990.

In 1994, in the Ravi Naik case of Goa, the Supreme Court had ruled that lawmakers need not necessarily resign from their parties to attract disqualification under the 10th Schedule. Next Speaker who stole limelight was Late T N Ngullie, a Congress neta in Nagaland.

He made use of the 'merciless scissors' and disqualified ten Congress legislators. It was perhaps the first case of 'disqualification' for defection and most Naga leaders were stunned. However, Ngullie's move could not save the day for the then Chief Minister S C Jamir, who was dismissed by the state's first Christian Governor Dr M M Thomas.

Incidentally, Sachin Pilot's father Rajesh Pilot and S S Ahluwalia had rushed to Kohima on a salvage mission to save the day for Jamir. But Governor Thomas, a strong opponent of Emergency, declined to meet the two "AICC observers" stating their views were not relevant for state assembly politics in Nagaland.

"I am not anti-Congress, but I opposed the Emergency. It is also true, views of AICC leaders were not relevant for politics in Nagaland assembly," Late Dr Thomas had told me. Nagaland's love affair - if one could say - with the power-politics of the Speaker's office and Anti Defection Law continued for some time. Thenucho, who replaced T N Ngullie as Speaker, was brother-in-law of Chief Minister Vamuzo.

At one point, as many as 15 MLAs out of 60 (that is one fourth of the assembly) were disqualified by Thenucho and that helped Vamuzo to be in power while veteran Congressman Jamir was cornered and left leaking his injuries.

Another northeastern assembly Speaker who made news in the 1990s was Dr H. Borobabu Singh of Manipur. More than fighting with fellow netas, often he landed up in dispute with the judiciary. Once he said he had the powers to summon even the Chief Justice of a High Court to be present in the witness box in his 'bar of court'.

He had a long and fierce legal confrontation with the Supreme Court as well as he had landed in a contempt case in the apex Court. He had taken a firm stand that “by virtue of the office of Speaker of the Manipur Legislative Assembly that he is immune from the process of the Court even in a contempt proceeding”.

Borobabu Singh had even ordered ‘compulsory retirement’ for the Assembly Secretary who wanted to implement a court order against his ruling. Speakers in various states have hit headlines for one reason or the other over the powers given to them under the Anti Defection Law.

But the menace of political defection is far from over. In August 2016, after years of argument and counter argument, the Supreme Court refused to revisit its two-decade-old verdict on the anti-defection law holding that an elected or nominated member of Parliament of a political party is bound by its whip even after expulsion.

"Though we have heard the matter at length, we are not answering the question," a three-judge bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi, PC Pant and Arun Mishra had ruled. YSR Congress Party MP Vijay Sai Reddy wrote an opinion piece in 2018 stating: “It needs to be remembered that all anti-defection laws come in the way of a lawmaker expressing some independent views without fear of losing the seat. So what should the lawmaker do? Should the anti-defection law be used only during confidence motions?”

Political commentators generally have used a common refrain. The political defection is a menace and certainly the Anti Defection Law has made defection a difficult proposition but it has not been abolished. In November 2010, when a case of violation of whip by MPs Amar Singh and Jaya Prada had come, the apex court did not disqualify them.

More recently yet again, Manipur Speaker Y Khemchand’s decision to disqualify three Congress MLAs and one Trinamool MLA ahead of the Rajya Sabha election in June 2020 had revived the debate on Speaker’s powers. BJP candidate Leisemba Sanajaoba was elected to the Rajya Sabha with 28 votes, while Congress could manage only 24 - exactly shortfall of four.

From time to time various suggestions have been made to bring in changes. In 2003, the Vajpayee government made some changes to the original law. B B Lyngdoh, a former Meghalaya Chief Minister, had said the law should be scrapped as it had given "unbridled powers" to the Speaker.

"Under Anti-Defection Law, a legislator has to say black to a white object if his party says it is black. This law must be scrapped," veteran Meghalaya politician had said. In recent times, interestingly, incumbent Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had said in February this year defections can be stopped only if a law is enacted that lays down that elected lawmakers 'cannot switch political parties at any cost'.


* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer has served in northeast and has penned books including 'The Talking Guns:North East India' and 'Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth'
The writer can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 25 2020 .



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