Karnataka crisis focuses on loopholes in anti-defection law

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Congress party is going through one of its worst phases, after the disastrous election verdict in May 2019. Its governments in few States have become immensely vulnerable to BJP’s constant attempts to bribe them and destabilise the governments.

On July 1, 2019, the Congress-JDS led Karnataka Government witnessed a major crisis when 15 Congress and JD (S) MLAs resigned from their assembly seats and sought to present their resignations to the Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly who, for his part,  refused to meet them. The MLAs had been taken to a hotel in Mumbai, and there were apprehensions that BJP personnel were also with them, refusing to allow any Congress representatives to meet the rebels.

Further, the Speaker rejected the resignations of some of the MLAs and returned them to be filed in proper form. The five MLAs, whose resignations were in order, were asked by the Speaker to meet him to discuss their resignations. None of the MLAs then met the Speaker. The MLAs then, 10 in number, instead moved the Supreme Court against the rejection of these resignations.


The court’s surprise move


In a surprising move, on July 11, 2019, the Supreme Court directed the Speaker to meet the 10 MLAs by 6 pm that day and decide on their resignations.  The Court observed that “having regard to the facts of the case, we permit the petitioners, 10 in number, to appear before the Hon’ble Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly at 6.00 pm today. We request the Hon’ble Speaker to grant an audience to the ten petitioners at the said time. The Petitioners, if they so wish and are so inclined, shall intimate the Hon’ble Speaker of the Assembly their decision to resign, in which event, the Hon’ble Speaker shall take a decision forthwith and, in any case, in the course of the remaining part of the day. Such decision of the Hon’ble Speaker, as may be taken in terms of the present order, be laid before the Court tomorrow (12.07.2019).”

However, on the same day, the Speaker filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking a recall of the above order on the basis that the Speaker had a constitutional mandate under Article 190 of the Constitution to decipher whether the resignations were voluntary or not.

This constitutional function could not be done in a hurried fashion, and the Speaker had to check if the MLAs were falling foul of the Anti-Defection Law in the 10th Schedule of the Constitution by tendering resignations.  Accordingly, the Speaker did not meet the MLAs.

On July 12, 2019, the Supreme Court ordered a status quo on the issue of resignations and disqualification of the 10 MLAs, citing that it required a detailed consideration by the court.[Pratap Gouda Patil v State of Karnataka, Writ Petition (Civil) No.872 of 2019, dated 12.07.2019]


Loopholes in the anti-defection law


This crisis has again brought to the fore the loopholes in the anti-defection law in India contained in the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, which states that a legislator is deemed to have defected if she either voluntarily gives up the membership of her party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote. Any member of the house can petition the Presiding Officer of a legislator about the possible disqualification of a member.

Curiously, the Karnataka MLAs have not resigned from the party, but only from their Assembly seats, which not only is highly dubious, but is a way to circumvent the anti-defection law. In their resignation letters, they have cited ‘maladministration of the state’ as a reason, thereby indicating that they have differences with their parties.

The Supreme Court in many cases has held that “voluntarily giving up membership of a political party” can be inferred from the conduct of the member within and outside the assembly house too. It is illogical to say that resigning from assembly seats en masse is not the same as resigning from the party, and it thus should be construed as disqualification under the anti-defection law.

The Supreme Court cannot be a mute witness to the complete desecration of democratic principles and procedures, where MLAs/MPs just bypass all legislative procedures. The anti-defection law ought to be strengthened and strict directions ought to be given by the apex court in order to preserve and protect the democratic mandate of the people. (IPA Service)


Banner/Image Courtesy: Sandeep Joshi