Vice-President of India and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu spelt out in no uncertain terms the other day that presiding officers should decide matters relating to disqualification of legislators within three months. Articulating the underlying rationale behind his argument, he asserted that quick disposal of cases would discourage the "evil of political defections". Every single conscientious, right-thinking citizen of this great nation would agree with him wholeheartedly.
The case in question was the disqualification of JD(U) MPs Sharad Yadav and Ali Anwar Ansari from Rajya Sabha early this week. Venkaiah Naidu was right in observing that "such petitions (seeking disqualifications) which go to the root of democratic functioning and which raise the question whether a particular legislator is entitled to sit in the legislature or not, should not be kept pending and dragged on by the presiding officer with a view to save the membership of the persons who have otherwise incurred disqualification, or even to save the government which enjoys majority only because of such type of persons."
The Rajya Sabha Chairman hit the nail on its head when he pointed out that the delays "subvert the essence of the anti-defection law". His ruling that any legislator would attract disqualification if he publicly criticises the decision of his own party and goes to the extent of addressing rallies of rival political parties, has wide political ramifications. It is in the light of the Rajya Sabha Chairman's statement that the YSRCP MP YV Subba Reddy, asked the Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly to disqualify turncoat MLAs who crossed over from the YSRCP into the TDP. Is there a better example of the "subversion of the essence of the anti-defection law" as Venkaiah Naidu aptly characterised it, than the sad spectacle that has been unfolding in the Andhra Pradesh assembly? The crossing over to the ruling party by the turncoat MLAs of the opposition, who, even as they won the elections on a YSRCP ticket, have no moral compunction in being with the TDP, is indeed a classic illustration of the "evil of political defections", as the Rajya Sabha Chairman put it.
The issue should not "be kept pending and dragged on by the presiding officer", said Venkaiah Naidu. How do we explain the inaction of the AP Assembly speaker on the defections of members who won on YSRCP tickets, but now find a place in the Treasury benches? The Rajya Sabha Chairman categorically said that a legislator would attract disqualification if he criticised the decision of his own party and went to the extent of addressing rallies of rival political parties. In AP, four YSRCP legislators have been made ministers. Does this not go far beyond "addressing rallies of rival political parties"? Shouldn't such MLAs attract disqualification in the first place? When these defections strike at the root of democratic functioning, as Venkaiah Naidu said and raise important questions on the eligibility of a member to sit in the house, shouldn't a presiding officer act immediately?
What stops the AP Assembly speaker from disqualifying these turncoat MLAs? Kodela claims that he cannot act since "the matter is sub-judice" as the YSRCP has taken the matter to court. However, as YSRCP leaders have pointed out repeatedly, why did the issue go to the court in the first place? Was it not because of the speaker's inaction in this matter? Is this not a manufactured Catch-22 situation? Can the opposition party be blamed for going to court questioning the speaker's inaction on the issue of defection of legislators? The YSRCP in an unprecedented move, decided to boycott the assembly session in protest against the speaker's inaction. Did the speaker or the Chief Minister attempt to resolve this constitutional crisis? What was even more surprising was the manner in which legislations were sought to be pushed through in the absence of the principal opposition party in the house.
Shouldn't the Centre take note of such clear transgressions of the spirit of the Constitution? Or is everything kosher in the name of federalism?