February 8, 2023

History of Anti-Defection Laws in India

Committee on Defections

On December 8, 1967, the Lok Sabha had passed a unanimous Resolution in terms following:

“a high-level Committee consisting of representatives of political parties and constitutional experts be set up immediately by Government to consider the problem of legislators changing their allegiance from one party to another and their frequent crossing of the floor in all its aspects and make recommendations in this regard.”

The said Committee known as the “Committee on Defections” in its report dated January 7, 1969, inter-alia, observed:

“Following the Fourth General Election, in the short period between March 1967 and February, 1968, the Indian political scene was characterised by numerous instances of change of party allegiance by legislators in several States. Compared to roughly 542 cases in the entire period between the First and Fourth General Election, at least 438 defections occurred in these 12 months alone. Among Independents, 157 out of a total of 376 elected joined various parties in this period. That the lure of office played a dominant part in decisions of legislators to defect was obvious from the fact that out of 210 defecting legislators of the States of Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, 116 were included in the Council of Ministers which they helped to bring into being by defections.

The other disturbing features of this phenomenon were: multiple acts of defections by the same persons or set of persons (Haryana affording a conspicuous example); few resignations of the membership of the legislature of explanations by individual defectors, indifference on the part of defectors to political proprieties, constituency preference or public opinion; and the belief held by the people and expressed in the press that corruption and bribery were behind some of these defections”

The Committee on Defections recommended that a defector should be debarred for a period of one year or till such time as he resigned his seat and got himself re-elected from appointment to the office of a Minister including Deputy Minister or Speaker or Deputy Speaker, or any post carrying salaries or allowances to be paid from the Consolidated Fund of India or of the State or from the funds of Government Undertakings in public sector in addition to those to which the defector might be entitled as legislator. The Committee on Defections could not however, reach an agreed conclusion in the matter of disqualifying a defector from continuing to be a Member of Parliament/State Legislator.

Constitution (Thirty-Second Amendment) Bill, 1973

Keeping in view the recommendations of the committee on Defections, the Constitution (Thirty-Second Amendment) Bill, 1973 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 16, 1973. It provided for disqualifying a Member from continuing as a Member of either House of Parliament or the State Legislature on his voluntarily giving up his membership of the political party by which he was set up as a candidate at such election or of which he became a Member after such election, or on his voting or abstaining from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by such political party or by any person or authority authorised by it in this behalf without obtaining prior permission of such party, person or authority.

The said Bill, however, lapsed on account of dissolution of the House.

Constitution (Forty-eight Amendment) Bill, 1979

Thereafter, the Constitution (Forty-eight Amendment) Bill, 1979 was introduced in the Lok Sabha which also contained similar provisions for disqualification on the ground of defection. This Bill also lapsed and it was followed by the Bill which was enacted into the Constitution (Fifty Second Amendment) Act, 1985.

Constitution (Fifty Second Amendment) Act, 1985

Objects and Reasons

The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill which was adopted as the Constitution (Fifty-Second Amendment) Act, 1985 says:

“The evil of political defections has been a matter of national concern. If it is not combated, it is likely to undermine the very foundation of our democracy and the principles which sustain it. With this object, an assurance was given in the Address by the President to Parliament that the Government intended to introduce in the current session of Parliament an anti-defection Bill. This Bill is meant for outlawing defection and fulfilling the above assurance.”

This brings to the fore the object underlying the provisions in the Tenth Schedule. The object is to curb the evil of political defections motivated by lure of office or other similar considerations which endanger the foundations of our democracy. The remedy proposed is to disqualify the Member of either House of Parliament or of the State Legislature who is found to have defected from continuing as a Member of the House. The grounds of disqualification are specified in Paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule.

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 2(1) relates to a Member of the House belonging to a political party by which he was set up as a candidate at the election. Under Paragraph 2(1)(a) such a Member would incur disqualification if he voluntarily gives up his membership of such political party.

Under clause (b) he would incur the disqualification if he votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to “any direction” issued by the political party to which he belongs or by any person or authority authorised by it in this behalf without obtaining, in either case, prior permission of such political party, person or authority and such voting or abstention has not been condoned by such political party, person or authority within fifteen days from the date of such voting or abstention. This sub para would also apply to a nominated member who is a Member of a political party on the date of his nomination as such Member or who joins a political party within six months of his taking oath.

Paragraph 2(2) deals with a Member who has been elected otherwise than as a candidate set up by any political party and would incur the disqualification if he joins any political party after such election.

A nominated Member of the House would incur his disqualification under sub para (3) if he joins any political party after the expiry of six months from the date on which he takes his seat.

Paragraphs 3 and 4

Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Tenth Schedule, however, exclude the applicability of the provisions for disqualification under para 2 in cases of “split” in the original political party or merger of the original political party with another political party.

The purpose of schedule

These provisions in the Tenth Schedule give recognition to the role of political parties in the political process. A political party goes before the electorate with a particular programme and it sets up candidates at the election on the basis of such programme. A person who gets elected as a candidate set up by a political party is so elected on the basis of the programme of that political party.

The provisions of Paragraph 2(1) (a) proceed on the premise that political propriety and morality demand that if such a person, after the election, changes his affiliation and leaves and political party which had set him up as a candidate at the election, then he should give up his Membership of the legislature and go back before the electorate. The same yard stick is applied to a person who is elected as an Independent candidate and wishes to join a political party after the election.

Paragraph 2 (1) (b) deals with a slightly different situation i.e. a variant where dissent becomes defection. If a Member while remaining a Member of the political party which had set him up as a candidate at the election, votes or abstains from voting contrary to “any direction” issued by the political party to which he belongs or by any person or authority authorised by it in this behalf he incurs the disqualification. In other words, it deals with a Member who expresses his dissent from the stand of the political party to which he belongs by voting or abstaining from voting in the House contrary to the direction issued by the political party.