Speaker`s Strange Verdict

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The disqualification of three MLAs of the All India Trinamool Congress by the Manipur Legislative Assembly Speaker Th. Lokeshwar Singh, is being understandably protested by supporters of these MLAs, but leaving aside their disappointment at their leaders being so unceremoniously deposed, there are certain legal doubts which have not been explained adequately by the 31-page ruling of the Speaker. The first of these has to do with the very basic condition set by the 10th Schedule, popularly known as the Anti-Defection Law, that elected MLAs (or MPs) of a political party cannot cross the floor of the Assembly (or Parliament) without attracting penal action under this law unless the defecting group constitutes one third of the total strength of the party in the Assembly (or Parliament) as the case may be. In our case, this will be the 10th Manipur Legislative Assembly. The fact is the Trinamool Congress returned seven MLAs in the last Assembly election. The fact is also four MLAs wanted to break away from the party, claiming they had formed another party. The obvious conclusion is, four is way above one third of seven, therefore their wanting to leave their original party should not have attracted review under the 10th Schedule at all. Moreover, one of the four rebels had expired in the meanwhile, leaving the Trinamool with only six MLAs in total, and the rebels with three.

Let us do some interesting permutations. One third of seven is approximately two point three. Since we cannot have a fraction of an MLA, the (.3) would have to be converted to a whole number. By the basic thumb rule of mathematics, in such a situation, (.5) is taken as the median. Therefore 2.3 MLAs would have been treated as two MLAs. There was some ambiguity here, however, after the demise of one MLA, and the total number of Trinamool MLAs was reduced to six. One third of six MLAs thus becomes a round figure of two, so there should have been no uncertainty anymore. In either scenarios, three (or four) MLAs leaving a legislature party of six (or seven), should have been seen as commanding the requisite number not to attract the 10th Schedule. If each disqualification case was treated as separate cases, having different merits to be adjudicated, then perhaps there would have been no escape from penalties under the 10th Schedule, but the judgment on all the three was by a single order. Moreover, there was only one petitioner against all of the dissident MLAs, and his case was fought by his two advocate team. Similarly, all the dissidents had only one advocate fighting for them. The Speaker`™s order itself mentions in para 2 that `these cases were taken up together, with the consent of the parties, for the hearing and disposal by a common order.` Further on in the same para the ruling again says `all the pending Disqualification Cases filed by the petitioners, involved identical facts and similar issues`. In para 49, the Speaker`™s ruling again says that the dissidents confirmed by `their acts/actions and admissions` that they were forming a new political party thereby substantiating `the contentions of the petitioners`.

In other words, the three MLAs were disqualified because they wanted to leave their original party and form a new party. The point is, this cannot be a justification for disqualifying the MLAs for the 10th Schedule does not put a blanket ban on MLAs switching loyalties, either by defecting or by voting against the party whip in any contest of strength in the Assembly. It only puts a tough restriction that they have to first muster the strength of one third of their original legislature party to split without attracting penalty. If it was a blanket ban on dissenting voices, it would have been by democracy`™s own definition, tyranny. Those who remember the debates on the 10th Schedule at the time it was being introduced in 1985 will be in no doubt that this danger was acknowledged by all at the time. If the Parliament and Assemblies acquire meaning because of the dialectics between the voices of the Treasury benches and the dissenting voices of the Opposition benches, the same principle of respecting dissenting voices must be allowed within the different legislature parties too, but as it was realised, with some structural barriers so inner party dissidence cannot be engineered easily from outside. Under the circumstance, should the Speaker not be asked to explain how four (or three) MLAs wanting to leave a legislature party of seven (or six) can attract the provision of the 10th Schedule? Clearly, in this case, the dissenters formed the majority voice within the legislature party, and their majority opinion was being snuffed out. Is this not anti-democratic, other than being in clear contravention of the terms set by the 10th Schedule?

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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