Political hustlers over the years have displayed an uncanny flair to subvert the law to their advantage. Whether it is Rajasthan, Karnataka or Madhya Pradesh, a new template appears to have evolved to frustrate the provisions of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, or the anti-defection law. It is now no longer necessary for the party in opposition to bring down a government by splitting the ruling party, a practice that the anti-defection law had effectively curbed by mandating that two-thirds of the legislators have to leave in order for it to be a legitimate split. The new-age hustlers circumvent this provision by the simple expedient of getting the required number of ruling party legislators to resign. This shrinks the size of the House to the extent that the opposing party numbers form the majority.
In Karnataka, last year 17 MLAs from Congress, JD (S) and one provincial party resigned and shrank the size of the House adequately for the BJP to gain majority. Of these 17 MLAs who had helped topple the Congress-JD (S) coalition government, 14 later got re-elected to the Legislative Assembly on a BJP ticket. In Madhya Pradesh this year, the Congress had 114 MLAs in the 230-member House after the 2018 Assembly elections while the BJP had 107 MLAs. With the support of 2 BSP, 1 SP and four independent MLAs, the Congress crossed the majority mark of 116 in the House and formed the government. But Jyotiraditya Scindia walked out with 22 MLAs reducing the strength of the House to 206. The majority mark was now 104 and the BJP already had 107 MLAs. As a quid pro quo, at least 14 of the 22 former Congress MLAs, who had resigned their seats, are now ministers in the State government.
The time is ripe for the Supreme Court to revisit its ruling on the Karnataka crisis. The court had then rejected the Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s ruling that the disqualification of the MLAs under the 10th Schedule bars them from seeking re-election for the entire term of the Karnataka Assembly. Indeed, the Speaker had exceeded his ambit here as the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951 does not provide for such disqualification. But the Supreme Court can create the law here if it so chooses. Barring the legislators from seeking re-election for an entire term of the Assembly would check smartly engineered defections. Indeed, the apex court has effectively amended the RPA law earlier in an attempt to reform the political arena. In Lily Thomas-versus-Union of India , it had ruled that any member of any legislature who is convicted of a crime involving two years imprisonment, loses membership of the House with immediate effect. The political cynicism of the day, a throwback to Indira Gandhi’s Congress years, calls for a legal solution.