Check Defection

In a significant court verdict, a full Bench of the Karnataka High Court recently upheld the disqualification of five independents from the State Assembly. It held that the legislators, “by their action”, “formed part” of the Bharatiya Janata Party and consequently their withdrawal of support to the government attracted disqualification. For a State like Nagaland where past trends indicate routine defection from one side to the other, the court verdict will come as a welcome reminder to our elected representatives on where to draw the line especially when it comes to honoring the mandate of the people. It may be mentioned that in the run up to the last Assembly Elections, several MLAs who had been part and parcel of the then ruling NPF led DAN government, were disqualified by the Speaker and as a result, the Opposition Congress could not muster up the required majority to topple the Neiphiu Rio led government. The latest court verdict has in a sense upheld the stand taken by the Nagaland Legislature Assembly Speaker to disqualify the errant MLAs. With the judiciary coming out with a clear stand on defection, our elected representatives can no longer play around for power’s sake. The verdict of the Karnataka High Court is therefore an important guiding light for future reference.  
For those not aware of the developments in Karnataka, in an order passed on October 10, 2010, Speaker K.G. Bopaiah held that the five Independent MLAs by attending the BJP legislature party meetings and by other actions (including the party whip received by them) violated the provisions of the anti-defection law. The Bench observed: “We hope and trust that the elected members of the House would realize the avowed object of the Tenth Schedule.” The elected members shall strengthen the fabric of parliamentary democracy by curbing unprincipled and unethical political defections, the order had stated. The same day, the Speaker passed another order disqualifying 11 other legislators, all belonging to the BJP. The High Court upheld this order, which has since been challenged in the Supreme Court and its orders are awaited. In fact if we may add here, the highest court of the land should come out with a comprehensive verdict so that a clear guideline is established once and for all on the menace of defection. The Supreme Court can also suggest deterrent punishment against those who resort to opportunism in complete disregard for ideology and principle. Political defection is the worst kind of offence in a parliamentary democracy and sooner we get rid of this menace completely, the better it is for stability and long term governance.  
As rightly mentioned by one of the editorials in a leading national paper (The Hindu), the real significance of the judgment, lies in its “broad interpretation of what constitutes defection”. As it rightly states, this has “major implications for the process of government formation”. The broad thrust of the judgment is that legislators lose their independent character and become liable for disqualification when they become part of the Council of Ministers. Especially in today’s era of coalition politics where independents can make or break governments, the latest court verdict should be seen as a legal code of conduct for the increasing number of Independents who enter the electoral fray. They can no longer display their naked aggression for power by holding political parties to ransom. So our Independent MLAs should be extra cautious about the political choices they make. Because once they become part of the Council of Ministers, attend legislature party meetings and receive whips from its Chief Whip, they no longer remain independent and what constitutes defection will be equally applicable to them. Let us hope that such a court ruling will strengthen the edifice of our representative democracy and ensure stability of our governments so that we can concentrate on development and not politics at least for the next five years.