Manipur Defection: Powers of the Speaker in Disqualifying Defectors.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Understanding the Anti-Defection Law and its intended effect:

The Anti-Defection Law was brought through a Constitutional Amendment in 1985 and it provides that if a member of the central or state legislature gives up his or her political party’s membership, such a member ought to stand disqualified from the house they belong to. The legislation also provides for the disqualification of any member who tends to vote against their political party’s directives which has given rise to the “politician’s conscience” argument the Anti-Defection Law. In reality, a politician’s role is seen as a collective block of the party, where he or she as a representative of the party are indirectly responsible for it and in return, are invested upon and marketed by the party so essentially, any candidate contesting elections, be it of any kind, would have to make sure an ideological superimposition exists with the party they are associated with.   

Now the important aspect of this Law is that who has the power to take into cognizance a defection and rule the defector out of the house. The speaker or the chairman of the house has the entire discretion of identifying and disqualifying such a member who goes against their political party’s will although in 2018, High Court addressed the lacuna of the speaker/chairman’s power and clarified the High Court to be the last but a legitimate alternative remedy under the provision of tenth schedule.   

Coming to the intent of Law, because of the members of houses joining different or even opposing political parties once they were elected in the house, it impacted the credibility of the candidates and eventually, the authenticity of the Political Parties under whose name such defectors contest elections. Moreover, strong speculations of illegitimate lucrative incentives by different parties made the entire political scenario look like a marketplace.  This was further substantiated by the reports of the committee under then Home Minister Y.B. Chavan, noting that out of 210 defectors, 116 were incentivized with a ministerial position if they helped in the formation of a Government.

A Timeline of Manipur State Assembly’s since 2017:

In the state of Manipur with 60 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the 2017 State Legislative Assembly elections had the Indian National Congress as the largest single part with 28 seats with the Bharatiya Janta Party barely close bagging 21 seats. However, the Governor of Manipur Nejma Heptulla called the Bharatiya Janta Party first to prove their majority which they did and successfully formed the Government. Now the BJP somehow made an alliance with 9 members and had one defector from the Indian National Congress directly levitated to the position of a state minister. Everything about this understanding between the defecting MLA and the State Government looked unscrupulous but the petition to the Speaker against the same MLA was overlooked for a considerably long time. If only this were the end to the Unconstitutional aberration occurring in the State Assembly of Manipur – in a new turn of events, 7 more Congress MLAs ventured with the BJP backed Government in defecting and although still sit in the opposition bench, they vote for the Government against their party’s directives. All the petitions for the disqualification of the eight defectors were deliberately unseen till the Apex Court had to intervene after 3 years and declared the disqualification of the defecting MLA who later became a State Minister. As for the other 7 members, the High Court in June 2020 banned from entering the State Assembly. However, the case still lay at the hands of the speaker and under the directives on the Manipur High Court, the Speaker was supposed to rule a disqualification post-Rajya Sabha election, where the state of Manipur gets to elect one Member of Parliament. The speaker, against the directive disqualified rescheduled the hearing of the disqualification of the MLAs to 18th June(a day prior to the Rajya Sabha election) which was previously supposed to happen on 22nd June  . Furthermore, he disqualified four out of the seven defectors, and those four were believed to have returned to the side of the Indian National Congress. The selective disqualification by the Speaker is beyond the stage of hint, implying how the party was willing to go head over toes to nominate its own representative to the Rajya Sabha, even if it required unconstitutional methods and further shone light upon the past ignoring of the petitions for removing the defectors by the speaker.

In a very direct outcome of events after 28th July, when the Congress party moved a no confidence motion (probably owing to the BJP MLAs withdrawing support and rejoining later in late June) and lost. The most controversial part in the no-confidence motion’s session was the absence of 8 Congress MLAs. Interestingly, 6 of those 8 MLAs later resigned from their position citing their loss of faith in the State Leader of Opposition and to add upon that, 5 of those ex-MLAs later joined the BJP[1].

Hinting towards aggressive political lobbying, the political glitch in Manipur was indicative of the shortcomings of the law and the paradigm example of a neutral role having partisan biases.

Speaker’s powers in the Anti-Defection Law:

Speakers, at times, have not acted in an impartial and independent manner as they ought to, in dealing with the disputes of disqualifications of the legislators arising out of the ‘split of a party or violation of the party-whip on Confidence Motion and other cases of floor-crossings’. The way in which the members of Legislatures changed their party-affiliations with a desire to grab power, has dragged the august body into fresh controversies since Manipur’s example is not a in anyway a novel case of such partial misuse of power as serious apprehension was brought into light regarding the impartiality of the Speaker in the year 1989 in Lok Sabha[2].

The inseparable issue that lies in the position of the Speaker is also how the office requires above par neutrality and integrity and at the same time, unless the member who is elected to the office of the Speaker is an independent candidate or unaffiliated to populist school of thought, a very rare predicament, has a predilection towards the political party to which they belong.

The supremacy in the speaker’s decision might become obscure at times but if interpreted as absolute, it can have severe effects on the origin and the idea of Ant-Defection Law in its entirety, proving to be a major setback for the Law to be implemented.  

[1]Manipur CM Arrives in Delhi, to Induct Seven Congress Leaders Into BJP, The Wire, https://thewire.in/politics/manipur-cm-arrives-in-delhi-to-induct-seven-congress-leaders-into-bjp\

[2] GEHLOT, N. (1991). THE ANTI-DEFECTION ACT, 1985 AND THE ROLE OF THE SPEAKER. The Indian Journal of Political Science, 52(3), 327-340. 

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply