It has become a trend these days to destabilize the state governments after elections. Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan is now added to that list. All these events nullify the purpose of democracy and elections. Such frequent fall of governments paves the way to administrative inefficiency. Not to mention the political crisis and stress the state goes through. Adding to that is the cost of reconducting elections. The government seems like drawing power from the centre rather than from the Constitution. The subsuming of state governments by central governments have been repeating itself throughout the Indian political history. But now it has become the only point of concentration of the political parties. There are many pressing issues at hand, especially due to the pandemic. There are lives to protect. It is the duty of the government in such crisis times to look out for its people’s needs and satisfy them. However, the Central Government has its hands full with toppling the governments.
The Story So Far
It all started as a feud within the party and ended up being about the state and beyond. The feud between the Deputy Chief Minister and the Chief Minister of Rajasthan is a result of the leadership dynamics of the Congress party. The problem here is the timing of the rebellion. There is no external trigger, and this pandemic has kept every government busy. The age-old “Aya Ram Gaya Ram” politics is at play. The real personal reasons for all this drama will never come out. All is done for the welfare of the state, but they don’t respect the people’s majority. The strength of the assembly is 200 seats out of which 107 are held by Congress and 72 by the BJP. It is a thin-wafer majority for Congress which is dangerous in situations like this.
The speaker of Rajasthan assembly served notice to the 19 rebel MLAs on July 14 for disqualification under the 10th schedule of the constitution. The issue arose when the 19 MLAs did not attend a party meeting and the Congress complained about the same. The MLAs were accused of jumping parties. The 19 MLAs including Sachin Pilot then filed a petition in the High Court against the disqualification. The petitions raised the same issues as in the Kihotto Hollohan case. The case which set standards for anti-defection law. The High court strangely gave an injunction order. The High Court asks the speaker to maintain the status quo of the rebel MLAs. The petitions also challenged the constitutional validity of the tenth schedule of the Constitution. The Speaker went to the Supreme Court challenging the Rajasthan High court orders. The apex court asked the Speaker to defer the decision on disqualification. The Speaker withdrew the petition. The assembly will now meet on August 14th.
The politics of defection are as old as democracy. The politics of defection have been a bane to the Indian political system. It means crossing by a member from one political party to another. The law of defection has been rampant in India for quite some time, especially at the state level. In the last six years, as many as 119 Congress MLAs in various states have switched sides to the BJP. Between 1967-1971, 142 defections in Parliament and 1,969 in state assemblies had taken place, leading to the collapse of as many as 32 governments. Defection causes instability. Defection is undemocratic as it negates the electoral verdict. Thus, the party which may have won a majority may yet fail to secure the same when some members defect from the party. Most of the time the member resigns due to disagreement with party policies to which he belongs. Then a fresh election is conducted for that position. But such principled defections are rare in a country like India. The defections take place out of the selfish motives of the defectors.
Most of the time, governments are toppled in a similar manner. There are many constitutional types of machinery involved in the cases of defection. The office of Speaker, Governor, and the courts. Not to mention the high drama of bribes and other things. But that is a topic for another day. In the present crisis, all the machinery played their cards and manipulated the scenario. At the end of the day, it is the people who are at loss, what have they got to lose. In the first place, let’s look at the courts. The High Court has no authority to intervene in the Speaker’s powers. But in this situation, the High court gave an injunction order which was a violation of the constitutional powers. And revisiting the same issues as in the Kihotto Hollohan case is just a waste of time and resources. The High court does not have the power to revisit the verdict of the Supreme Court. This particular part of the constitution is only reserved for the Speaker to decide on without any bias. The tenth schedule has been incorporated into the Constitution for the same purpose. It is added through the 52nd amendment which is often called the anti-defection law. The purpose of the law is to curb defections. The powers of the Speaker are given under the schedule in paras 6,7 and 8. The constitutional validity of the law has been upheld in the Kihotto Hollohan case in a 3:2 majority. However, the apex court stated that the decision of the speaker is subject to judicial review. In the present case, the case was file by the rebel MLAs stating that their rights are being curbed due to the law.
Secondly the governor’s take on the whole crisis. The governor did not allow for the sessions to start and asked the chief minister to prove his majority. Many accused the governor’s position. Governor is an independent executive body and does not take a cue from the central government. On the whole, this situation might turn out to be another case of the central government subsuming the state governments. This, in turn, undermines the principle of democracy. Anti-defection law was made to protect democracy and the principles of elections. It was made to protect people’s choices and to function according to the constitution. Subsequent developments have been made to the law. The law as it stood originally was not able to prevent defections. Many cases seemed to be like a tussle between the legislation and the judiciary. And others accused the law as to giving high powers to the Speaker. As the Speaker is also a political body and may not be impartial. It is not the question of powers and authorities but what makes Indian democracy a flawed system. It is for sure, some lacunae in the law and also the people who implement the law. The lawmakers at the time of incorporating anti-defection law never thought of toppling the governments due to defectors. They never imagined a situation where due to a member of the assembly the whole government can be dissolved. But times have changed and throughout history, there have been many scenarios where a small tussle dissolved the government.
The Constitution imposes a duty on the Centre to protect the state from any internal or external aggression. But the present Central Government undermines the constitution to such a level that, it seeks opportunities to cause instability rather than protect it. Our country is a quasi-federal system. Federalism, as mentioned in the constitution, is not a matter of administrative convenience, but one of principle. It divides powers between the centre and state. The political system also follows the concept of co-operative federalism. Where all the units of federation work for the common goal of the nation. But our country is far from realizing such a relation between the centre and the states. Since the onset of the Constitution, the overpowered central government always used the provisions of the Constitution at its whims and fancies. For example using the defection law for subsuming the state governments, using emergency powers to destabilize the state and many such scenarios show that the government is diluting the power of the Constitution.
In the present case, Congress started a digital campaign, ‘Speak up for Democracy’. Democracy and federalism essential features of the Constitution and part of the basic structure. These features should not be violated to protect the essence of the Constitution. The final challenge is what is the way forward. Not only for Rajasthan but for the whole country. When the defectors corrupt the structure, how can the law rectify it? Many have given their solutions to the same. Kapil Sibal tells that the defectors should be banned from participating in elections for five years. Some others say the disqualification should be limited to certain issues and not extend to defection. Like that there would not be any importance given to the same and no corruption. Some even say that the political system should shift to a presidential one to protect the true essence of democracy. We do not know what is an effective solution. Hopefully, the tussle should be resolved when the assembly session begins in Rajasthan. As far as the nation is concerned only time will tell what is the solution for defectors and maintain political stability. Till then what the constitutional machinery should remember is ‘constitution is for the people and it is not the other way round’. The Constitution can protect people only when people try to protect the Constitution. The governments cannot defend themselves if they are not accountable for the laws of the nation.
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