Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Anti-Defection Law and the Curse of Coalition Politics

By Adil Rasheed
April 4, 2014

For several years now, the incubus of ‘policy paralysis’ and ‘governance deficit’ has plagued the Indian body politic. 

In Pythagorean terms, the recurring non-terminating factors of irrational political numbers and their strangest of configurations have produced perpetually hung parliaments. It seems to be a Catch 22 situation that oscillates from one disjoint Lok Sabha to another fractured mandate and in the process drains the country of its democratic lifeblood.

Thus, coalition politics with its oversised governments and unaccountable excesses has become the norm ever since India enacted the unprecedented Anti-Defection law in 1985, which disqualifies individual members of parliament to defect from their political parties.  Ostensibly, the law was meant to prevent unseemly scenes of ‘floor-crossing’ and ‘horse-trading,’ but in the process has led to the ossification, if not the hegemony of minor political parties over important matters of governance.

Thus we find bloated coalitions (like the UPA or NDA) unable to pass crucial pieces of legislation or provide effective governance because smaller political parties often blackmail or put narrow, parochial aims ahead of the larger interest of the nation. Individual MPs are forced to adhere to the party whip and are denied the independence to act as responsible legislators. Horse-trading and ‘unparliamentary ‘ practices have all but increased and minor parties often get their pound of flesh in lieu of supporting the slender majority of a political bloc.

It is important to note that the constitution never used the word political party, until the time the Anti-Defection law was introduced as the 52nd Amendment of the 10th Schedule in the Indian Constitution. Not surprisingly, no party has ever complained against the law as it provides every one of them control over the elected legislators.

It would be very difficult for India to have a national party that is able to garner even a simple majority in parliament. Given the problems this situation entails, one should revert to the wisdom of the founders of the constitution and accord more respect to the independence of individual members of parliament.  The winner-takes-all formula may help the biggest party gain the majority, which the country desperately needs for good governance. Such a scenario would be less problematic than the queer combinations that political parties cobble up in the absence of a clear mandate.

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