Updated: August 10, 2021 9:28:48 pm
Written by Shreya Singh
A recent article titled, ‘The Parliament we deserve’ (IE, August 7), while divulging the sad state of affairs in the Indian Parliament, also highlighted the apparent shortcomings of the anti-defection law. The distinguished MP proposed that the deteriorating condition of the Parliament was related to the onerous provisions of the 10th Schedule. A closer look at the issue would serve to assuage such misplaced concerns.
Introduced in 1985 through the 52nd Constitutional Amendment, the anti-defection law aimed to eliminate the evils of political defection by laying down the process through which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection. According to it, members of Parliament or state legislatures are deemed to have defected if they voluntarily resign from their party or disobey the directives of the party leadership on a vote. In this light, the writer’s apotheosis of Feroze Gandhi’s move to unveil the Mundhra scam withers away in the face of technicality and precision.
This allows us to address the allegation that the law impinges upon the freedom of speech of the legislators. In no way does the law prevent legislators from voicing their opinions or shedding light on the exigencies of their constituencies. The law’s peripheries extend only as far as to prevent legislators from voting in transgression to the party directives; a reasonable restriction, considering that legislators swore their allegiance to the political party. The Supreme Court also agrees with this view. In the Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu and Ors judgment of 1992, a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court said, “The anti-defection law seeks to place the proprietaries of political and personal conduct above certain theoretical assumptions.” The court went on to establish that the law does not squelch any of the rights or freedoms of the parliamentarians.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. The Parliament we deserve is, ultimately, the Parliament that we have elected. Granted, the options facing us are far from exceptional, with a tepid Opposition and a majoritarian government. Yet, one cannot attribute these deficiencies to a law which, if anything, prevents the legislators from duping the public. A seat in Parliament is as much a virtue of the candidate’s image, as the party that they are a part of. To vote against the party directives would be akin to betraying the public’s mandate. Of course, the anti-defection law is not devoid of its fair share of flaws. Parliament would definitely benefit from heeding the recommendations of the Venkatachaliah Commission and the Goswami Committee regarding these.
Yet, the bottom line is that our constitution framers empowered us to make a choice for ourselves. The onus of a legislative body embroiled in a ruckus also falls on the citizens who elected such unbecoming representatives. It is time that we exercise this political right with caution and precise intent.
(The writer is a student, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai)