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:


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)

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16 Responses to “Has anti-defection law strangled our democracy?”

  1. Brahmanyan Says:

    Anti defection law is weak and it has not served the purpose fully for which it has been enacted. Political parties use their power and money to engineer defection to gather numbers in the Assembly. Conducting an election costs Tax payers money. Wasting money for strengthening the party in power defeats the purpose of election. Once a candidate is elected he should not be allowed to contest again during the period for which he is elected, if he resigns. Money and freebees need not effect a change but certainly influence the poor voters. The recent Assembly Elections in Tamil Nadu proved that people can take a strong view against selfish Political immorality and change the Government.

  2. Emptymind Says:

    Greed, Anger and Ignorance are the three poisons responsible for collapse of democratic system in this country. Why blame only poor illiterate voters, it is also elite and educated people who carries the same above 3 poisons.
    Let the Greed replaced by Generosity, Anger by Loving Kindness, Ignorance by Wisdom. Then we can see the Change.

  3. emperor Says:

    Now, wtf is anti-defection law?
    these laws have made us slaves and we dont even know them.

  4. Anand Baradi Says:

    Sindhia’s election to assembly in 2004 should be declared void as the election expense is breached by more than 12 times as per his own admission

    The so called dissenting voices withing a ruling party would be more or less about them not being given a prime posting or no posting at all.would hardly dissent on policies on state

    Anti defection law is necessary evil otherwise none of the smaller states would complete their assembly terms , history has shown this many times, Stability has ensured even in bigger states because of this anti defection law
    anti defection law has saved exchequer and tax payer from lakhs spent on election and i am not even mentioning the amount of illegal money spent during election

    Elected government at the office is always better than governor’s rule

  5. harkol Says:

    Anti-defection law is basically a Gag-order law, which forces representatives to toe the party line, even if it goes against the folks they claim to represent!

    It is my firm belief that we won’t be a mature democracy unless our legislature is truly separated from the Executive.

    What we have is a situation where executive is at the mercy of legislature for its survival on day to day. And our legislature is at the mercy of our executive to bring in the laws, amendments and get it passed.

    What we need is a separate elections for our top most post (PM or President), and legislature. This way legislature can exercise control over the Executive through the laws, but not on every day actions.

    THis way, Legislation process will be freed up from ‘saving the govt’ mode, and it can be approached in a non-partisan way.

    We killed our democracy during Indira era. It perhaps will take a revolution for rebirth of democracy.

  6. Nastika Says:

    For me C.V. Madhukar comes as a blind person touching the elephant’s tail and concluding that elephant is an animal like snake.

    Anti-defection is there to curb party-hoppers – mostly due to lure of money. A party invests money & lends its name to the candidate. The candidate has to show loyalty & work within the party’s rules. Otherwise he is free to quit the party.

    Lets take on his point:
    > The anti-defection law has silenced independent voices within a political party.
    How & why? Just because you have a different view doesn’t mean you have to quit the party. Its like quitting a company just because the company or your manager didn’t buy your argument. Better stay put and get your view point heard.

    >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.
    For argument sake, taking from PGR Sindhia, post 1989 falls in 3rd phase where people have totally lost their faith in their leaders. Hence they have come up with their own parties and hence the number of parties have grown exponentially.
    BTW how absence of anti-defection law will reduce no. of political parties? Beats me.


    @Anand Baradi, hushing up reality doesn’t mean it doesn’t exists. Election Commission’s limit is joke. There is no candidate (among top 5 in the poll result) who doesn’t exceed the limit. If EC is interested, it must speak to all the candidates (unofficially) and find ways to curb expense. There is no point appointing more vigilance officers because that is not the solution. Better smell reality than deny it.


  7. Shree Kar Says:

    @Anand Baradi


    Good point. He should be made to cough up everything that he has gained due to winning the election.

    But who is going to bell the cat?

  8. Bhamy V Shenoy Says:

    Sindhiya’s public statement that he has spent more than Rs 1.25 crores should have been the head line in all the papers if we had modicum of governance in our country. Do we need any proof that rule of law has failed in our country?

    If Sindhiya wanted to show his honesty, he should take up political sanyas and lead a campaign like Anna Hazare. In that role he could be far more productive than in his present role.

  9. Nastika Says:

    @Shree Kar, @Bhamy V Shenoy:
    Pity that some politician spoke his mind and hence he doesn’t fit into your imagination of a stereotype.

    Its precisely from the expectations of people like you that politician walk/talk/live like they do.

    Basically you mean either a person is dishonest or he is a sanyasi … No wonder this country gets the leaders its people deserve.

    My view: If somebody wants to plug election expense, they must talk to Sindhiya and ask why he spent that amount. Also encourage more people to be honest.


  10. lost mindset Says:


    Just when we thought the eloquent kannadiga from shivamogga will float a strong regional party he has succumbed to centre’s trap.
    Eshwarappa who was a zero figure till now suddenly starts delivering under secret traps from nitin gadkari.
    alpanige aishwarya bandaaga…………..

    for all things said and done these two who came from scratch – who will never get into central boots even if BJP wins with thumping majority should understand that they need to e empathize to people’s expectations of the state.

    I have lost all hopes being kannadiga.
    I feel like a loser whose land is looted, whose language is muted and esteem mortgaged and made to fight each other from some backstabbing mindsets.

    I am hopeless and have all symptoms of turning anti-social of those who turned my land into bits and would probably end early . my peace of mind has been stolen and i am sure that most of my kin will be feeling the same.


  11. Shree Kar Says:

    >>>Pity that some politician spoke his mind and hence he doesn’t fit into your imagination of a stereotype.

    My point is simply that a corrupt politician has publicly confessed to spending more than a crore on his election.

    Based on his own admission, the EC should prosecute him for violating the rules, and IT-Dept should question him as to the source of the money he spent.

    As to plugging the election expenses, we all know very well that this is the root cause of most corruption of our elected representatives.

  12. Mathihalli Madan Mohan Says:

    The malady for the present decay likes elsewhere . The issues mentioned by the politician, the researcher and the academician are quite peripheral in nature.
    iThe main malady likes in the collapse of the party system of poltiics in the country. The parties in the present context remain only in name and in reality they are individual centred groups mainly because those clinging to it are there because they want to ride on the bandwagon for their pesonal political aggrandisement.
    The main culprit has been the Congress. By splititing the old Congress party, she destroyed the party system and organisation in this oldest party but she was singularly incapable of putting in place an alternative political organisation drawing power from the people. She took recourse to nominations and imposing leadership from the top as a result ofwhich there is a total disconnect between the party and the people. Since they have no backing of the people the parties resort to use of the money power to stay afloat.
    If a strong party with roots in the heart of the people were to be there it would have been a safeguard against the plans to hijack the party by the moneyed bags.

    The chosen to people flock to the party not to serve but to make money. This is an open secret. Everybody can see but none of the academics or researchers want to acknowledge it.

    The disechantment of the people with the parties is reflected in the growing percentrage of the people staying away in election (This is happenning in America also). The share of voters for the national parties in the parliament elections is going down gradually and one could see the rise in the influence of the regional parties. None of the political parties are interested in addressing themselves tothis problem. Because for their own sake they dont want to wake up a sleeping dog.

    Besides another trend of the voters has practically gone unnoticed. Why do the people cast vote for a political party or person? There are myriad reasons which are very difficult to be quantified. It could be caste community, personal likes dislikes and what not . Corruption is definitely not one of them.

    Most of the times it has become a force of habit like reading a particular paper or getting addicted to tea or coffee. Whatever may one may talk loudly, more often than not, one normally notes for the same party he had voted on the previous occasion. It is the newly enrolled voters who make all the difference every time. .

    In Karnataka you can see this trend very clearly. Congress has lost or won the election in Karnataka not because of any accretion of strength but it all depended on whether the anti Congress voters are consolidated or divided.

    Between 1999 till this day, the Congress has not got a single vote extra in the elections despite increase in the electorate and turn out. All the newly enrolled votes have gone in favour of the BJP and this explains their sudden rise.

    All this is because the Congress as a party has not developed its root among the people. It is not people centric. It cannot attract the young and youth. It has no leadership which can inspire the people at the national and state levels.

  13. sanjeeva Says:

    Like any other law, the Anti-defection Law too never worked.

  14. twistleton Says:

    I lost all hopes of intra-party democracy when people say things like ‘party whip’. :D

  15. Boring jounalist Says:

    The anti defection law has not strangled democracy. As a matter of fact it has helped to understand the democratic value and has tried to rein in the tendency of switching over political loyalities for personal elevation and of the poltiics emerging as marketable commodity.
    Thanks to the ayaram gayaram tendencies, we know now where the weakness lies and the necessary corrective action is being taken..

  16. pdk Says:

    Interesting insight on the reasons for the anti-defection law in today’s Business Line(Pushing reforms is no easy task):

    The Congress has always had a centralised view of India’s federal structure. When Jawaharlal Nehru was elected to power in a largely illiterate country, he believed it was his duty to tap a more educated — read Western-educated — elite for policymaking. He then used his vast political capital to push these policies through Parliament. No other Congress Prime Minister had that kind of political clout. Mrs Gandhi worked her way out of that predicament by taking the populist route of ‘Garibi Hatao’.

    Mr Rajiv Gandhi tried to protect the right of the elite to make policy by distancing the policymakers from the elected representatives. Policymaking was to take the form of independent missions, led by individual icons like Mr Sam Pitroda. At the same time, the anti-defection law was brought in to ensure that once a directive was issued by the party leadership on a particular policy initiative, the MPs had to vote for it. While the rhetoric of the anti-defection law was to prevent destabilisation of governments, it was used to issue directives on specific policy initiatives.

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