[This article is authored by Charith Reddy and Shagun Bhargava, students at the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad. It attempts to establish that a legislation for an inherently political issue like defection won’t solve the problem.]
Defections form an indispensable part of parliamentary democracy. However, contrary to the experience of other countries, India has sought to curb the practice by introducing anti-defection laws through the Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The legislation, however, has several drawbacks and has, consequently, been criticized on all fronts. The call for its repeal stands testament to the severity of the challenges to the effective realization of the law. The issue regarding the shortcomings of the law resurfaced due to widespread defections by Members of Legislative Assembly in Manipur in 2019. This political battle spilt over to the courts; the Supreme Court in the case of Keisham Meghachandra Singh vs. the Hon’ble Speaker Manipur Legislative Assembly & Ors. recommended that the role of the Speaker as the sole arbiter be reconsidered. The paper seeks to establish that any legal or legislative reform to remedy an inherently political issue such as that of defections would only be a piecemeal solution. In this context, this paper seeks to evaluate the role and function of the Speaker and highlights the paradoxical nature of the office of the Speaker as one of the leading causes for the ineffective realization of the anti-defection law. In light of the recent instances of rampant misuse of powers by the Speaker, the paper analyses the recommendation by the Supreme Court to replace the Speaker with an independent tribunal and other such recommendations that have come to the fore over the brief history of the anti-defection law in India. In this context, the paper then concludes by asserting that given the political environment shrouding the Indian polity, the anti-defection laws are to be retained, at least as an interim measure, while striving towards more holistic changes in the political culture in India.