Sunday, 30 August 2015

A solution to U-turns by political parties

Elizabeth Swann: Whose side is Jack on?
Will Turner: At the moment? 

Just like Elizabeth and Will from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, are not aware of Jack's allegiance, citizens of India are also not sure of their candidates's allegiance when it comes to taking a side on an issue. 

News channels have named these political turnarounds "U Turns". Although they should ideally be called 'Breaching the trust of the people who voted for them' but U turns are better for the headlines.



In the recent past we have seen so many political parties completely change their stance on issues before and after elections. Some of these issues are: Land Acquisition by the government,  One Rank One Pension (OROP), Goods and Servies Tax (GST), Direct Cash Transfers, political toughness against Pakistan's incessant ceasefire violations, Jan Lok Pal Bill, FDI in retail etc. 

This is not limited to a particular political party and neither is it a recent phenomenon. Political parties take different stands on issues depending on whether they are in power or in the opposition. It is made possible because in India, even though we vote for individual during elections, their decisions are taken by the party as a whole and not individually. 

It means that if I am a MLA who got elected by being a member of Party ABC, my vote in the parliament on all issues will be what the party decides and not what I personally believe. Hence, sometimes I will vote against something even when I am actually not against it. 

What happens if a MLA votes against his party? He is disqualified under the Anti Defection Law. The law clearly states that if a member of parliament decides to give up his/her membership or votes against or abstains from voting against the directions given by his/her political party then he/she will be disqualified. 

This means that sometimes some politicians might be forced to take a U-turn just because their political party asks them to do so unless they want to get disqualified. This law was brought in to ensure political stability and because it was believed that citizens vote for the party and the candidate is just a representative. 

Political parties in India don't follow any particular ideology like the ones in the USA (Democrats and Republicans) and neither have they stuck to their pre-elections stands on issues. So there is almost no way to determine the stand of different political parties on issues which might arise in the future. 

The solution is to modify the anti defection law. It would ensure every individual MLA would be free to vote as he/she may choose to on all issues. This would increase the accountability of the MLA to his/her constituents and also give him/her a chance to actively participate in the parliament based on his/her beliefs. 

Would this affect the political stability of the parliament? It won't if we restrict the anti defection law only to confidence motions in the parliament. 

Would this give MLA a chance to take bribes for their votes? Maybe. If you can't trust a person to remain honest then why vote for that person in the first place? If they still flip flop on issues, citizens have the opportunity of not voting for that person during the next election.

Modifying the anti defection law will make sure that debates on all new bills will be centered around the merits of the proposed bill and not be decided based on which political party has put it forward. It will ensure that opposition parties don't just blindly oppose everything the government proposes. It will ensure that politicians actually get to express their opinions on different issues in the parliament. 

"Parliament can be effective only if individual MPs have a significant role as law makers, and if they can be held accountable for their actions by their electorate." - M R Madhavan, Co-founder of PRS Legislative Research in the article 'The Anti-Defection Law needs a relook'


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