Explained: What Is Anti-Defection Law And Can It Save Team Thackeray's Sinking Ship

Maharashtra Political Crisis: The coup by Sena MLAs has also put the spotlight on the Anti-Defection Law and the roles of the Deputy Speaker and the Governor.

By Talibuddin Khan
Updated: Fri, 24 Jun 2022 09:33 AM IST
Minute Read
Explained: What Is Anti-Defection Law And Can It Save Team Thackeray's Sinking Ship
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The political turmoil in Maharashtra has pushed the ruling MVA government to the brink of a collapse given the mutiny led by state minister Eknath Shinde against his party Shiv Sena. Shinde, who is currently camping at the Le Meridien hotel in Assam's Guwahati, has claimed that 42 MLAs, including 35 Shiv Sena legislators and seven independents, are camping with him at the Guwahati hotel. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, meanwhile, also said that he is ready to step down as the CM and Shiv Sena chief if "his own MLAs want him to resign". The coup by Sena MLAs has also put the spotlight on the Anti-Defection Law and the roles of the Deputy Speaker and the Governor.

Struggling to tide over the crisis, the Shiv Sena on Wednesday asked all its MLAs in Maharashtra, including the rebels accompanying dissident leader Eknath Shinde, to attend a legislature party meeting or face action under the anti-defection law. However, the rebel leader Eknath Shinde termed the ultimatum 'invalid' and said that he has more support of MLAs with him than the Shiv Sena and could form a separate group in the Assembly.

What is Anti-Defection Law?

The Anti-Defection law, brought in the 10th Schedule of the 52nd amendment to the Constitution in 1985, allows the disqualification of legislators who, after being elected on a ticket of a political party, voluntarily resigns from the party membership. The law, also applicable to independent MLAs, prohibits them from joining a political party and in case, they do so, they can lose their membership in the legislator.

The law recognizes two kinds of defections when it comes to elected representatives – one in which members voluntarily give up membership of their party and the other in which an independently elected member joins a political party. The law permits legislators or elected representatives to join another political outfit under certain conditions only.

Meanwhile, the anti-defection does not apply to legislators if the number of MLAs, who revolt against a political party, constitutes two-thirds of the party's strength in the Legislative Assembly. If the dissenter MLAs are in a two-thirds majority, they can merge with another political party or can form their own group in the legislature.

Will The Anti-Defection Law Apply In The Current Political Scenario In Maharashtra?

Rebel leader Eknath Shinde has claimed that he has the support of 42 MLAs including 35 from the Shiv Sena. Given Shiv Sena's 55 lawmakers in the state assembly, the two-third mark of it would be 37, which means Eknath Shinde needs 2 more Shiv Sena MLAs in his camp to prove his majority. Therefore, the protection under the anti-defection law would not be available to Shinde and his group. And, if Eknath Shinde manages to gather more MLAs with him, he can join another political party or form his own group in the legislators and stake claim to form the government. And it is the Assembly Speaker who decides whether an MLA has left a party or a group that constitutes two-thirds of a party.

The Role of Speaker:

The post of the Speaker in the Maharashtra Assembly is, however, vacant and Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal of the NCP is performing the Speaker's duties. He has to follow the rules of the Maharashtra legislature that lays down the process under the anti-defection law. Any MLA of the legislative assembly can petition Zirwal that certain MLAs have defected from a political party. However, the petition should be accompanied by documentary evidence.

The Speaker or Deputy Speaker would then have to forward the petition to the MLAs against whom defection charges are raised. The Speaker gives sufficient time to the MLAs to respond to the petition. Meanwhile, Shinde or MLAs in his camp can also apprise the Speaker or Deputy Speaker with evidence claiming that they have the support of a two-thirds majority and can claim protection under the anti-defection law. In either case, the Speakers will decide the matter after hearing all parties.

The Role of Governor:

Governors, during these crisis times, play a very important role. Presently, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari can ask CM Uddhav Thackeray to convene the Assembly and prove his majority on the floor of the house. The chief minister can also recommend the Governor to dissolve the assembly before the completion of a five-year term and ask for fresh elections. The Governor may decide not to dissolve the assembly if he thinks that the recommendation is not from a council of ministers who are enjoying a majority in the state assembly.

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