AA Edit | Himachal turmoil doesn’t augur well for democracy

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

Orchestrated defections challenge the essence of democracy, prompting questions about political integrity and institutional strength

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Congress leader Rajeev Shukla during a meeting, in Shimla, on Wednesday. (Image: PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi often reminds the world that India is the mother of democracy. Whatever is his logic and whatever be the historical facts he would advance to substantiate the claims, what the nation witnessed during the election to the Upper House of Parliament on Tuesday is an antithesis of what the world understands as democracy. And what makes the whole episode more upsetting for all those who have a stake in the survival and success of the democratic republic called India is that it was orchestrated under the aegis of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to which the Prime Minister belongs.


An MLA defecting here or an MLA cross-voting there is not a very uncommon practice in India but what was on display in Himachal Pradesh were mass defections in a planned manner during an election. So much so, the Congress which runs the government with the support of 43 members in a 68-member state Assembly failed to get its candidate elected to the Rajya Sabha in a straight contest. The Congress and the Opposition BJP with 25 members in the Assembly scored the same 34 votes, necessitating a draw of lots. Now the Congress ministry, which was formed hardly a year ago with a clear mandate in an election, is on notice. Infighting within the Congress which resulted in the resignation of a powerful minister the day after cannot be ignored, though.

A similar show but of lesser magnitude was staged in Lucknow where seven legislators of the Samajwadi Party crossed over to the BJP which resulted in eight of the ruling party’s candidates sailing through in the election while the SP, which had the strength to secure the win of three candidates to the Rajya Sabha, had to contend with two. There was a still lighter version in Karnataka, but the operation did not produce major upsets.

Representative democracy functions through political parties. Various laws, including the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the anti-defection law, have bestowed upon them the right to function as legitimate entities. In fact, the laws have practically endowed the parties with a greater right to popular mandate than the elected representatives themselves, as it is assumed that the voter elects the party rather than the candidate. What we saw on Tuesday is that there are elected representatives who are willing to let down their electors, and then there are political parties with deep pockets and access to the levers of power to facilitate it.

The BJP has perfected the art of engineering defections in its political rivals, especially the Congress, over the last decade through the notorious programme dubbed Operation Lotus. The party has found an ingenuous way to ensure that the defecting MLAs escape the impact of the anti-defection law by making them resign from the Assembly first, thereby reducing the government into a minority one. With the help of a pliant governor, it can subsequently instal a new government, which then makes the re-election of the very same defectors an easy task.

Democracy survives through its institutions which keep evolving. Legislature is the first and foremost of these institutions, and hence its strength reflects the strength of the democratic process. Deliberate attempts to weaken it, and to undermine it, is like striking at the roots of the democratic system.

It’s a paradox that the BJP, which advocates the idea of “one nation, one election” is the sponsor of these mass defections. It is for the party to explain how its systematic attempt to hollow out the legislatures squares with its argument that a House elected for a fixed period should be allowed to last its full term.