Will removing anti-defection provisions be effective?
The Anti-Defection act in India prohibits Members of Parliament from voting against party line if the orders them to do so, through what is called a whip. Understandably, many argue that this is against the spirit of democracy because MPs cannot represent their own views or constituent's views. Hence, many call for a recall of this specific provision.
Though I agree and support the proposal to recall this specific provision, I am sceptical of the view that it would reverse the current situation in a significant way. The Indian political architecture makes it difficult for individual MPs to voice their opinion contrary to the party line, even without the anti-defection provisions.
1. An MP's election depends significantly on winning the ticket to contest from the party. It's difficult to win as an independent candidate. It makes the party ticket crucial. But, the problem is that the distribution of the party ticket is not based on internal democracy but on the whims of the leader, winnability and a host of other reasons. Thus, any form of disobedience has huge costs as it affects the chances of getting a party ticket next time. In this context, I am not sure any MP would go against the party line on significant issues.
2. Many cite the US's case of Republicans opposing President Trump's proposals in the legislature as an example of legislators going against the head of the government. Indian case is however different. In the US, the presidential election and the legislators' election are de-linked. Both are separate elections. Hence, a US legislator is not dependent on the Presidential candidate to get elected.
In the Indian case, MP's election and PM are interlinked. Indian MP cannot afford to go against the Prime Minister's stance as it can hurt PM's electoral prospects, thereby irking the PM.
3. Shorter election cycle time between the notification and result means that there is less time to persuade people on individual merit. One has to thus depend more on the party, leader image and other things. This dependence on party and leader increases the cost of going against the party line on significant legislative issues.
4. A large part of Indian legislators' work is to bear the burden of governance failure. In other words, due to delays and obstructions in governance (certificate distribution, registering FIR, getting land records etc), people approach the MP hoping to get things done with the MP's intervention. Essentially, the bureaucracy has a virtual veto over these things. They can stall the procedure as long as they want. They listen to the bureaucrat only as a matter of respect or out of the fear that the government might reprimand the bureaucrats if they do not listen to the governing party's legislators.
Going against the party line will reduce the legislator's capacity to get things done in government offices. Hence, no legislator can afford to go against the party line on significant issues.
5. A similar problem exists in the case of governmental contracts. Legislators help their supporters and funders get government contracts in lieu of supporting the legislator during the elections. Going against the party line reduces the legislators' capability to get contracts for their funders and supporters. Cannot get contracts for his funders.
6. Even if the legislator decides to go against all these and votes as per conscience on a significant matter, there is simply no benefit for doing so. Legislative work is not rewarded by people in Indian politics. It's not a metric based upon which people support or vote. As discussed earlier, addressing personal grievances, getting contracts for supporters and funders etc are significant factors in a legislator's election.
7. Empirically, it would be interesting to see the number of cases where MPs voted against their party line when a whip (mandating vote along party lines) was not issued.
If we are to make the repeal of anti-defection provisions effective, legislators' dependence on the party and MP has to be reduced. It can be done by addressing governance failure in the provision of service and promoting internal democracy. They reduce the cost of going against the party line.