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Strange as it may appear, two political parties in Goa, the Indian National Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have come up with a novel idea to strike at the root of perennial defections — a political malaise that remains undiminished even decades after amendment in the Constitution.

The Congress made its candidates swear before god and the party leadership to remain loyal to it. The party is one of the worst hit in the current legislative assembly, when it started with 17 legislators in 2017, and are now dwindled to two as it reaches the end of the five-year tenure.

In spite of emerging as the single-largest party in the 40-member assembly, the Congress could not cobble up a majority and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 13 MLAs managed to form a government under Manohar Parrikar, first with support of smaller parties, and later with a huge chunk coming from the Congress itself.

Last week, the Congress shepherded its 36 candidates across places of worship — a temple, church and dargah — where they took a promise not to go ‘’here and there’’, a euphemism for political travelling after the elections. Not satisfied with an undertaking before divine powers, the party candidates took the pledge before Rahul Gandhi.

Interestingly, five years ago the Congress strength fell on the day Parrikar sought a confidence vote with Vishwajt Rane, son of former Congress Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane, walking out of the House. He and two others, Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte resigned as Congress MLAs, and joined the BJP.

Public Pressure

On the other hand, attempting to expand its legislative presence in India, AAP went a step ahead by making its 39 candidates take an oath of loyalty and reinforced it by making each sign an affidavit to stay with the party, and not indulge in corruption. Identifying frequent defections as a major problem in the state, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP Convener Arvind Kejriwal thought of the affidavit as a move to checkmate prospective legislators through a legal-binding.

Adding to it, the party decided to distribute copies of the affidavit to voters in the constituencies hoping that public pressure would deter elected party legislators from crossing the floor in the assembly. The constituents have the option of filing a FIR against the elected AAP representative in case the legislator changes party affiliation.

In the outgoing assembly, 24 legislators, which accounts for 60 percent of the total strength, changed party loyalty during the last five years. According to a report by poll rights group Association of Democratic Reforms, such a development is without parallel in the country, and reflects the lack of respect for the mandate.

Regular Phenomenon

In the upcoming elections, the change of sides occurred even before legislators were denied nomination by the party; unlike the past when such crossovers were the norm after names were found missing from official candidate lists. For instance, three legislators belonging to the Congress resigned and joined the BJP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), while four put in papers from the BJP and moved to other parties including the Congress, AAP and the Maharasthrawadi Gomantak Party.

Defections and change of governments in Goa, is a regular phenomenon with 20 chief ministers in three decades with some holding offices on several occasions. Politics in Goa revolves around the personality of the candidate, and the constituents are known to shift with the person irrespective of the party to which they belong or gravitate towards in a politically-fragile and altering landscape. The number of voters is small, allowing the constituents to have a direct and personal rapport with the legislator.

No Small Problem

The developments in Goa bring to fore two issues that bedevil politics in states with smaller assemblies. There are a number of instances where legislatures as small as Goa or even slightly larger, some of which are in the Northeast, political stability remains an issue. Scale and speed with which legislators in Goa have shifted loyalties render the party ineffective, and its promises empty.

Another related issue is the efficacy of the anti-defection law enacted during the late 1985 by the Rajiv Gandhi government by amending the Constitution and adding it to the 10th schedule to curb the “evil of political defections”. Since then there are any number of instances in several legislatures when its members shifted allegiance, and at times to effect a change of leadership.

Over the years, there is a debate around the powers of the Speaker to determine the status of the legislators who cross the floor. Instances of how a decision is kept pending for a prolonged period led to suggestions including to rest the power of adjudication with the Election Commission of India. There have been instances when aggrieved party(ies) knocked the door of courts to secure a verdict from competent authority.

The Way Around

In a few cases, political parties have found another way to circumvent the anti-defection provision. The law maker concerned resigns from the party from which originally they were elected, and then either made a minister under another provision of the Constitution which allows a non-member to be inducted in the council of ministers for a period of six months. The member so inducted then seeks a fresh mandate from the new party.

Will the Goa experiment by the Congress and AAP prove a deterrent in the season of migration, or will politicians find ingenious ways to bypass the pledge? Politics, as the saying goes, is the art of the possible.

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