Has anti-defection law strangled our democracy?

From left, Ganesh Karnik, Sandeep Shastry, C.V. Madhukar, P.G.R. Sindhia

GAGAN KRISHNADAS writes from Bangalore: The centre for public policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM-B), recently organised a conference titled “Strengthening Institutions, Enhancing Governance”.

It  provided an opportunity for politicians to share the stage and their thoughts with academics and researchers about the changing role of elected representatives and its implications for legislative institutions.

P.G.R. Sindhia from the Janata Dal (Secular) and Captain Ganesh Karnik of the BJP represented the political class, while Prof Sandeep Shastri and C.V. Madhukar represented the academics.

It was interesting to see how people within politics and out of it viewed the proposition:

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P.G.R. Sindhia of the JDS divided the political history of modern India into three distinct phases.

“In the first phase between 1950s to the 1970s, we had politicians who were role models, like Sardar Patel et al. They had complete knowledge of the country and their constituencies. The expectation of the people from these leaders was constructive community matters, not individual gains. People also had faith in these leaders and not to forget, we also had a stable government.

“In the second phase between 1970s and 1990s, we could see that the people were disappointed that their expectations had been belied. They voted against the Congress and we saw coalition governments coming into power and small political parties taking birth. Though I am totally against Indira Gandhi and was a part of the movement against Emergency, I have huge respect for her. She enthused the people with the 20-point programme and her Garibi Hatao scheme. She was able to gain the confidence of the masses with land reforms which was followed in Karnataka too by Devaraj Urs.

“In the third and the present phase between 1990s and 2011, the people have totally lost their faith in their leaders. People are disillusioned with elected representatives. Due to globalisation, the availability of money to the political parties has increased. Now, people expect money and personal favours from their elected representatives. Our MLAs most of the time are busy attending marriages, funerals and birthday parties.

“During my first election in 1983, Ramakrishna Hegde and H.D. Deve Gowda asked me contest and I won as a result of the anti-incumbency factor. I hardly spent Rs 30,000 and my supporters spent about Rs 1.5 lakh. My caste is microscopic in Karnataka and I did not win on the basis of caste at any time. I have defeated stalwarts like Deve Gowda and M.V. Rajasekharan. My winning margin used to be as high as 50,000 votes. When I contrast it with the year 2004, I spent about Rs 1.25 crore, but my majority was just a few thousands. Money and muscle power rule the politics today. To curb this, we need strong laws and it needs to be implemented through the Election Commission. Democracy is the best form of governance for our country and we need to strengthen it.”

C.V. Madhukar, founder and director of PRS Legislative Research, had his own take on what has failed Indian democracy.

He said that the anti-defection law introduced in 1985 was responsible for destroying state legislatures. He said that, from 1950s upto 1989, we had a maximum of 14-15 political parties. After the introduction of anti-defection law, the number of political parties had reached a peak.

Madhukar said that Indian legislative institutions were suffering because of four reasons:

a. The anti-defection law has silenced independent voices within a political party.

b. The poor participation of our legislators in the house.

c. Lack of adequate and expert research support to the legislators on various matters.

d. While the role of legislators is primarily to make laws, oversee working of the government and represent the voters, what they do in reality are the petty works of their constituencies and their supporters.

He said that during the 14th Lok Sabha, 1,400 documents were tabled. It was impossible for a member of Parliament to go through all the documents. He lamented that when an MP goes to the Parliament library and seeks for material on a particular subject matter, what he gets are the newspaper clippings from the last 60 days.

Madhukar asked: “Should our policy should be based purely on the opinion of a few newspapers?”

Captain Ganesh Karnik of the BJP read out the preamble of our Constitution and asked how many of these aspirations had been fulfilled.

There are three categories of voters. The first category whose choices are fixed; the second category who are intellectuals and vote on the basis of issuesl; the third category are the ones whose votes can be bought by the politicians. Unfortunately, the voters in third category are the ones who play the decisive role in every election.

There is a need to educate this section of voters. Though it is not the role of a legislator to go for marriages, birthday parties and do personal favours such as transfers; he is bound to perform these functions since these are the very people who have elected him and they expect him to do so!

Sandeep Shastri, the pro chancellor of Jain University, negated the views put forward by the politicians, Sindhia and Karnik, that the people voted on the basis of money alone.

Empirical research suggests that contestants who spent the highest amount of money never always win the elections.

Politicians have been in power all these years and they had all power to make changes in laws, change the mindsets of the people, yet they had failed.

At the end of the session, it was clear that the two politicians blamed the people for taking money for voting; the researcher blamed the lack of expert research support to leaders which failed them in taking proper decisions; and the academician said money power alone doesn’t work and that politicians themselves were responsible for the bad state of affairs.

Who do you think is right or wrong? Or do we need to take a holistic view and say that each group is responsible for the failure of our democracy?

(Gagan Krishnadas is a post-graduate student at National Law School of India University, Bangalore)