What Is Wrong With The Anti-Defection Law/10th Schedule?

Resignation of more than 20 MLAs has brought Madhya Pradesh Government into minority. With this, India’s anti-defection law is once again back into focus. Anti-defection law — or simply The Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution — sets the provisions for the disqualification of elected members on the grounds of defection to another political party.

Criticism of the Anti-Defection Law
  • Anti-defection law was brought in by Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1985. The biggest criticism against this law is that strips the MPs and MLAs of their independent decision-making powers as they are forced to toe the party line.
  • This law is applied even when an MP or MLA decides to go against a party whip. This means that no legislator can go against the party line on key issues in the parliament or state legislatures. These issues may or may not linked to the survival of the government. Yet, anti-defection law treats all defiance with similar punishment.
  • This law also gives ‘quasi-judicial powers’ to the speaker of the house. What does not help is the fact that Speaker always happens to be a member of the ruling political party.
  • This law denies legislators their moral compass exercise of which is essential for a healthy democracy. Forcing them to toe the party line does not make parliament a good place for debate.
  • Our constitution didn’t intend to give the control of members to political parties. Interestingly, political parties and chief whips entered the Constitution first time in 1985 with the enactment of this law.
  • The law’s original purpose was to end political defections so that we have stable governments at the center and states. However, this law has simply replaced small-scale defection with ‘mass defection’. This mass defection is often engineered by the ruling party.
  • The law indirectly puts lawmaker’s loyalty towards party before the voters of his or her constituency, and fails to incentivise dissent and independent thinking.
What We Can Learn From Elsewhere

In the United Kingdom, from where India inherited most of its Constitution and the Parliamentary system of Democracy, MPs stopped Prime Minister Boris Johnson from shoving Britain into throes of chaos and signing a no-deal Brexit. This was possible because 38 Tory MPs rebelled against their own government and voted for what they felt was right. The US Congressional history is also rife with such examples, with the most recent instance being when three Democrats broke away from party line and voted against Donald Trump’s impeachment, while one Congresswoman refused to vote either for or against her party in the crucial vote.

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