A ravishing constitutional chutzpah : Indian Elections

Recent instances of defections in Indian state assemblies abjure constitutional mechanisms and impact libertarian democracy.

Photo: Indian Express | Karnataka Vidhan Sabha | In 2019, a political slugfest mired by a massive defection of 17 members of legislative assemblies caused a fall of H.D. Kumaraswamy’s government.

With the onset of elections, the political charisma of national and regional parties narrows down the public opinion to one candidate for each electoral constituency. The votes are polled, exit calculations are debated on television with hype and Election Commission of India announces the strongman for the next five years. Read this one more time, probably write it on paper and toss that in a garbage-can near you!

That the elections happen vis-á-vis Representation of People Act, 1951 & guidelines issued by Electoral officers is a notion in fallacy. Members of legislative parliaments in Indian states condone the underlying issues of citizens in electioneering but how will they attend to those issues and importantly, on what ideological lines has become increasingly difficult to articulate. With a seemingly ineffectual Anti-defection law, the governments fall, the ministers are devoured by few and the infamous & notorious ”homecoming” is celebrated pompously. The citizens renounce their elected representatives as political opportunists and pay their allegiance to the new government ’cause of an unambiguous lack of options. But how does that happen? How does the world’s largest democracy fail to safeguard the constitutionally chosen group of members in legislative assemblies of her states from this obvious political surreptitiousness?

Photo: The Times of India | Shivraj Singh Chouhan (centre) took oath as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in late March, 2020, after Indian National Congress’ political icon Jyotiraditya Scindia went rogue and initiated the fall of Kamal Nath’s government.

A weak anti-defection law, a consistent fascination with incendiary muscle power and political stardom and tender ideological cohesiveness in political parties facilitate this openly. An exasperated judicial system marked by occasional vexations of such flamboyant switches adds up to the issue at large. The recent fall of H.D. Kumaraswamy’s Janta Dal (Secular)-Congress led government in Karnataka, Kamal Nath’s led Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, the infamous defection of 10 Members of legislative assemblies affiliated with Congress to Bhartiya Janata Party in Goa, of the home minister of Mizoram, R. Lalzirliana, backed by Congress who defected to Mizo National Front (MNF) just before the state assembly elections, defection by 12 of the 16 MLAs backed by Congress to Telangana Rashtra Samiti(TRS) in Telangana are some of the vivid examples of failure of the psephological machinery in India. “The good, the bad & the ugly” power-sharing episode in Maharashtra’s state assembly recently was a flagrant dereliction of constitutional obligations of elected representatives at best, and political timidity at worst.

Photo: Hindustan Times | A massive political conundrum prevailed in Maharashtra assembly elections in 2019 when Ajit Pawar (right) switched his political affiliations three times in less than 24 hours. The timid switchover made Devendra Fadnavis (left) the Chief Minister of Maharashtra for one day after which he had to resign due to the lack of confidence and strength in numbers.

The anti-defection legislation enacted on March 1st, 1985 has ceased to have an impact and is just not enough to countervail this miasma of political opportunism and intolerance in India. The legislation empowers the presiding officer of the house of legislature to adjudicate on the instances of defections with no time constraints. If it wasn’t for Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu and Others (1992), her decisions were not even open to judicial review! The judgement enabled the higher judiciary to consider scrutiny by the House’s Speaker as one by a tribunal, have an active opinion on the speaker’s adjudication in defection matters and puts her political neutrality to a legal scrutiny. But has the slugfest stopped? The recent election of defectors in Karnataka on Bhartiya Janata Party’s ticket does reflect badly on the whole fiasco.

As elections to Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament nears, the fears of defection have already surfaced in Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The lobbying of Members of Vidhan Sabha in resorts and hotels even with the coronavirus pandemic lurking around and the medical risks associated with it still profound, it clearly shows how serious the threat of defection is to political parties. Baseless calculations by media houses of Sachin Pilot, the Congress chief in Rajasthan, possibly defecting to the Bhartiya Janta Party nevertheless, adds up to the pressure and instigates anarchy in the constitutional assemblies of the state.

Indian states have had a date with coalition governments and political compromises since independence. Recent instances have exposed their fragilities and governance volatility has taken the driver’s seat. Will the assembly elections in Bihar, India’s most politically unstable state with 40 regime changes and 25 Chief Ministers in the last 70 years, reflect on the aspirations of her citizens or has the notion of ‘electoral democracy in a consistent existential crisis’ become ‘business as usual’ remains to be seen.

4 thoughts on “A ravishing constitutional chutzpah : Indian Elections”

  1. Well-written post that highlights that Democracy has a tendency to become enveloped in issues that sometimes don’t always reflect the best needs of the electorate. Thx for pointing out details of the anti-defection law.

    Like

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