Rakesh Rao: Gujarat once upon a time was known for the ethical values of its leaders in public life. Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel set new benchmarks in living a public life. The Navnirman Movement was nothing but people’s anger against corrupt politics.
In Rajkot Municipal Corporation, the Jan Sangh had a majority but even then when one of the corporators defected, he faced such opposition from the people that he had to resign and also lost his seat. What it shows is that at one point of time, transparency, honesty and loyalty was a must for anyone leading a public life. Unfortunately, these qualities have disappeared in politics across the country and Gujarat is no exception.
It is not mandatory for any leader to continue with a party. Any legislator, who feels that the values for which he associated himself with a party is no more being followed, is free to resign. Thoughts, ideas and values that we hold dear may change over time and we may take steps to reflect this. This is a sign of a healthy democracy.
But, nowadays it seems as the markets reopen after Lockdown, MLAs have also put themselves up in the open ready to go to the highest bidder. This is an ideal situation for a politics based on corruption and without any values. The voters know why an MLA has defected but the buy and sell of MLAS also have a detrimental impact on the overall quality of public life of politicians as well as the expectations that voters have from them.
We have a law against defection but we have also ensured that there are adequate loopholes to make it a toothless one. A section with just 1-2 MLAs can break a faction and misusing this, the faction with 2/3rd strength finds itself disqualified. But no steps have been taken to prevent complete defection.
How long a defected MLA can be prevented from contesting another poll is a question whose answer has been kept opaque so that the law is never effectively implemented. Even the voters know that they are helpless against this buying and selling.
For the record, the anti-defection law was brought to ensure that those who were voted did not destabilize a government by accepting bribes. The motive was to end the buy and sell of MLAs to build and destroy a government but both the object and reason for the law stand defeated today.
The law was formed by the politicians themselves who had an ulterior motive in ensuring it failed and as a result the decision of the Speaker and Chairman was taken to be the final one. The Speaker/Chairman is often a member of the ruling party. While in theory the person who holds the post is supposed to be neutral, it is a known fact that they often tilt in favour of their respective party. Despite this, the Speaker was given the power to be the final authority on an MLA’s defection so much so that the decision cannot be challenged even in a court of law.
Thanks to the rule, the voters have no recourse to remove such MLAs who are for sale and in fact, their demand for a Right To Recall has not been headed as well. Since the voters have no recourse, the Speaker has often acted as the puppet of the ruling party. The matter also raises the question whether the issue can be brought before a high court or a Supreme Court since the law does not allow for it.
In the case of Kihoto Hollohan vs Zschillhu and others (1992 scrcd 686) the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench had after a long debate called this aspect of a law (that the decision cannot be challenged in any court) as unconstitutional. Under section 136 and 226/227 of the Constitution, the Speaker’s ruling can be challenged. Despite this ruling, the Speaker’s decision continues to be biased.
As a result, the Supreme Court in the Kishan Medhchandra Singh V/S Speaker case in connection with the Manipur Assembly, on January 21, 2020 recommended to both the Centre and Parliament that the power to disqualify an elected representative must be taken away from the Speaker. It had asked that a separate arrangement be made since the Speaker is not bound to be neutral and this is against the rules of natural justice.
Earlier in 1999 the Law Comiisison of India had made similar recommendations. In 2002 it had again recommended that MLAs who defect should be prevented from holding any important positions. The Civil Society has also been demanding a Right To Recall so that voters can act against such MLAs. But no progress has been made in this direction with the result that despite having an anti-defection law, the buying and selling of MLAs continue as both the voters and the law watches helplessly.
In a democracy, the voters reign supreme. It is a different matter that these days the voters don’t feel that they are powerful. It is time for them to protest in a non-violent way against elected leaders who sell themselves for a few coins. They need to confront their representatives. It is time for us to demand high moral and ethical standards from our elected representatives Unfortunately, it is also a fact that despite selling themselves, the same leaders get elected again and that raises the actual question who is morally corrupt- the leader, the legislator or the voter?
(The author is a senior advocate, former BJP MLA and ex-president of Kheda District Panchayat. Views expressed are personal)