Defection is a Double-Edged Sword

By Ashwin Tombat
15 July 2019 17:11 IST

Between 1990 and mid-2007, not a single government in Goa lasted its full term. In those 18 years, Goa saw 15 swearing-in ceremonies for the post of chief minister, and three spells of President’s Rule.

On only four occasions in this era, the chief minister changed because of elections to the Goa Legislative Assembly. Most times, the chief minister changed because of large-scale defections by MLAs; for greed, for power, for wealth…

Since then, Goa has seen relative stability. Digambar Kamat’s Congress-led coalition government lasted its full term from 2007 to 2012. Manohar Parrikar’s BJP-led coalition government, elected in 2012, ruled till the next election in 2017 (Laxmikant Parsekar became CM mid-term).

Are we headed for another era of instability?

On Wednesday, 10 of the Congress party’s 15 MLAs met Goa Assembly Speaker Rajesh Patnekar and gave him a ‘letter of merger’ with the BJP. As two-thirds of the MLAs support the ‘merger’, there is no need for them to resign and seek re-election.

The story of defections starts with Gaya Lal, the Pataudi independent MLA in Haryana, elected in 1967. After the election, he joined the Congress. Then, he changed parties thrice in a fortnight — first from Congress to the United Front, then back to the Congress and, within nine hours, back to the United Front again.

While Gaya Lal had temporarily re-quit the United Front to re-join the Congress for nine hours, Congress leader Rao Birendra Singh brought him to a press conference at Chandigarh and triumphantly declared: “Gaya Ram is now Aya Ram.” Those words have become a permanent part of the Indian political lexicon.

Unfortunately, defections have also become a permanent part of Indian politics.

In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress government enacted the 10th Schedule of the Constitution — the anti-defection law. It said an MLA or MP had to resign — or could be disqualified by the Speaker — if (s)he changed parties or voted against a party whip (directive) on the floor of the house. But if a party split and one-third of the MLAs / MPs supported the split, resignation or disqualification would not apply.

Goa was the first to make a mockery of this law. Seven out of 21 Congress MLAs ‘split’ the party in March 1990 to form a government with the opposition MGP. Large-scale defections continued through the next decade and more.

In 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government amended the 10th Schedule. It removed the exception of ‘split’, and replaced it by an exception for a ‘merger’ — which required the support of a massive two-thirds of the MLAs /MPs.  

On 27 March 2019, Goa made a mockery of this law as well. Two of the three MGP MLAs in the state ‘merged’ their legislature party with the ruling BJP. They avoided resignation / disqualification, and earned plum portfolios.

On 6 June, 12 of the 18 Congress MLAs in Telengana ‘merged’ with the ruling Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). On 20 June, four out of six Telugu Desam MPs from Andhra ‘merged’ with the BJP. On Wednesday, 10 of Goa’s 15 Congress MLAs followed suit.  

There is a difference between the old and new mass defections. The earlier ‘split’-based mass defections were mostly to topple governments. The new ‘merger’-based mass defections are engineered by ruling parties to strengthen their grip on power.  

People vote for a party or a person for a reason. It could be a manifesto or an ideology. Or a history (or promise for the future) of good public service. It stands to reason that if a public representative wants to change parties, (s)he should resign and seek re-election. That is what the rebel Congress MLAs in Karnataka have done. It is what Vishwajit Rane, Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte did in Goa.

To switch parties with no reference to voters is a blatant betrayal of mandate. It doesn’t matter if they are two-thirds or even three-fourths of the MLAs/MPs. It may be legally allowed. But it is wrong on every other parameter…

The unofficial news at the time of writing is that Mr Sawant has asked three Goa Forward ministers and independent minister Rohan Khaunte to resign. Quepem MLA Chandrakant ‘Babu’ Kavlekar is the new Deputy Chief Minister, while Taleigao MLA Jennifer Monserrate, Velim MLA Filipe Nery Rodrigues and Calangute MLA Michael Lobo are the new ministers.

It is wrong for Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and BJP President Amit Shah to think that an overwhelming majority (the BJP now has 27 MLAs out of 40) can only give stability. Having too many MLAs also creates discontent. Severe dissatisfaction leads to rebellion.

If it is possible to lure 10 out of the 15 Congress MLAs to the BJP, surely it should also be possible to tempt 18 of the 27 BJP MLAs to ‘merge’ their party with either five Congress MLAs or three Goa Forward MLAs, gain a majority and form a government…?

Mr Sawant will have to carefully watch his flock…

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Previous Comments

GFP should merge with Congress, where they actually belongs.

MGP should merge with BJP, where they actually belongs.

- Jack De Goan, Goa | 19 th July 2019 21:39



Election in Goa should be with BALLOT PAPER and not with EVM.

Re-election of any MLAs or MPs who joins another party with two third or whole party.

- Jack De Goan, Goa | 19 th July 2019 21:36


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