SC’s move to examine anti-defection law will bring horsetrading under the scanner

Supreme Court’s decision to test whether the recent political strategy of getting turncoats to resign their house membership to bring down governments falls foul of the anti-defection law under the Tenth Schedule will be keenly watched. While the current law provides for disqualification, it is rendered toothless because the resigning MLAs, even if disqualified, are allowed to recontest the byelections and return to the house.

The petitioners have demanded that the disqualification be for the entire term of the house to deter resignations and defections. Currently, the only bar is that a disqualified person cannot become a minister until he or she is elected to the house. In recent years, states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Goa have seen instances of MLAs resigning from their parties or getting disqualified to pave the way for BJP governments.

Given that the Tenth Schedule is part of the Constitution since 1985, the judiciary will worry about the implications of a ruling that tantamounts to altering the text, if not the spirit of the document. Ideally, Parliament should have taken the lead but clearly it is not interested. “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” and horsetrading are terms that have become part of the Indian political lingo for decades now. Will the judiciary be able to arrest the decline of political morality and ethics? The upcoming hearings promise to offer multifaceted dissections of this Indian political practice if more petitioners, including political parties, implead themselves into the case.

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