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Volume IconWhat is an anti-defection law?

In the political turmoil in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde is claiming the support of at least 40 MLAs. In this drama, anti-defection law has come into focus. This report explains it.

ImageAkash Podishetti New Delhi
Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde and some other Shiv Sena MLAs from the state are camping at a hotel in Gujarat's Surat city. (Photo: Twitter/@mieknathshinde)

Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde and some other Shiv Sena MLAs from the state are camping at a hotel in Gujarat's Surat city. (Photo: Twitter/@mieknathshinde)

Defection in politics predates Gaya Lal -- the Haryana MLA who switched party thrice in a day in 1967. After finally securing his loyalty, senior Congress leader Rao Birender Singh had then famously told a press conference in Chandigarh, ‘Gaya Ram ab Aaya Ram hai’. Little did Singh know that the phrase, with some changes in word orders, will turn into a cliché in Indian politics.

About 18 years later, In 1985, in a bid to curb defection, the then Rajiv Gandhi government had brought the anti-defection law through the 52nd Amendment Act of 1985. This amendment is known as anti-defection law.

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An anti-defection law calls for disqualification of elected representatives if they switch political parties on the lure of executive office or other gains. The aim is to bring political stability and demand accountability from the legislatures.

Under the anti-defection law, members of a political party can be disqualified and removed from the membership of the House if they voluntarily resign from the party after being elected or defy the direction or whip of the party leadership in the House.

Independent lawmakers may also stare at disqualification for switching political parties.

However, if two-thirds of members of a political party intend to shift to another party, the law exempts them from disqualification. In 2021, 12 out of 17 Congress MLAs jumped ship to join Trinamool Congress in Meghalaya and were exempted from the anti-defection law.

Despite the anti-defection law, political defections are a common phenomenon and related proceedings have been going on in various courts. The role of the adjudicating authority --- usually the speaker of the House --- is under scrutiny in most of the anti-defection cases. There were several instances of delays in the disqualification process as the speaker is not time bound to decide on any case.

For instance, during 2014-18, multiple opposition MLAs defected to the ruling TRS party and no action was taken by the speaker against these defectors. Experts argue that the speaker may not be the objective authority to decide on anti-defection cases.

And also, the whip of a political party forces lawmakers to toe the party line and undermines their judgement on important issues. This essentially kills inner-party democracy. Given numerous loopholes, experts have urged the government to revisit and reform the anti-defection law.  

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First Published: Jun 27 2022 | 7:00 AM IST

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