Coalition of convenience: India must evolve a legal framework to curb unethical post-poll alliances

Updated: December 16, 2019 4:30:25 AM

For a long time, it has been debated that the abject immorality of alliances between parties who fought elections against each other must be scrutinised and demotivated.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra Congress President Balasaheb Thorat

By Bhaskar Kumar

After the NCP, the Congress party and the Shiv Sena announced their alliance, certain voters moved the Supreme Court to stop the ‘unholy alliance’ (as termed by them), since it defeats electoral mandates. In recent times, as mandates are getting more and more fractured, post-poll alliances have become inevitable in electoral politics. In the last assembly election in Maharashtra, the BJP formed a post-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena; in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP allied with the PDP post-elections; and in Haryana, the BJP got Dushyant Chautala into its crew after the results. These have been instances where post-poll alliances have been entered into by parties who initially drew swords against each other. For a long time, it has been debated that the abject immorality of alliances between parties who fought elections against each other must be scrutinised and demotivated. Now the question before the Supreme Court is, whether these alliances are permissible under the constitutional scheme and are they not contrary to democratic ethos? While allowing coalition governments, did the framers of the Constitution anticipated and intended such coalitions?

It is pertinent to note that the Tenth Schedule was incorporated in our Constitution to prevent unethical defections and horse-trading. Hence, it is need of the hour that the definition of a party under anti-defection and the Constitution must be construed in a broad manner, so that the objective of the Tenth Schedule gets accomplished. To make informed choices, voters should know who they are voting for, and in cases of post-poll alliances this very foundational aspect of democratic politics is compromised. In the Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu case, the Supreme Court elaborated the objective behind anti-defection law. It observed that the law seeks to recognise the practical need to place the proprieties of political and personal conduct (whose awkward erosion and grotesque manifestations have been the bane of the times) above certain theoretical assumptions, which, in reality, have fallen into a morass of personal and political degradation. The Supreme Court further held that the objective of the Tenth Schedule is to curb the evil of political defections motivated by the lure of office or other similar considerations that endanger the foundations of our democracy. The remedy proposed is to disqualify the Member of either House of Parliament or of the State Legislature, who is found to have defected, from continuing as a Member of the House. The Supreme Court emphasised that the provisions are salutary and are intended to strengthen the fabric of Indian parliamentary democracy by curbing unprincipled and unethical political defections.

A political party functions on the strength of shared beliefs. Any freedom of its members to vote as they please independently of the party’s declared policies will not only embarrass its public image and popularity, but also undermine public confidence in it, which, in the ultimate analysis, is its source of sustenance — nay, indeed, its very survival. The cases of post-poll alliances have now become equally unprincipled and unethical, since parties with diametrical ideologies and policy objectives come together, thus undermining public confidence.

To curb the menace, there is a need to expand the ambit of the Tenth Schedule by adding a provision that prevents post-poll alliances between parties who fiercely contested against each other in the first place. The Election Commission must be directed to broadly classify parties on the basis of their ideology, policy objectives, beliefs and ideals, so that their specific commitments are recognisable. Only selective post-poll alliances should be permitted, maybe where parties share a considerable extent of beliefs, ideologies and policy objectives. Since pre-poll alliances represent themselves as a single unit with a shared agenda agreed upon by both parties, voters have the option to form informed choices. A common feature between a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional democracy is that both acknowledge that the government rests upon the consent of the governed, given by means of elections based on universal and equal suffrage.

To address this concern, parties must be mandatorily directed to announce certain fundamental ideals and values including the broad policy objective that would not be compromised even after elections. And if and only if two parties entering into a post-poll alliance satisfactorily show that their broad values and ideals are not mutually conflicting, should they be allowed to form an alliance. This will ensure that the voter’s primacy in a parliamentary democracy remains intact. It must be understood that Indian parliamentary democracy is legislator – constituent-centric model, which means a subordination of the interest of parties over the relationship between a legislator and his constituents. Hence, when interpreting the Tenth Schedule in its entirety, the Court must resort to that interpretation which expands the scope of the schedule in favour of voters.

(The author is student, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. Views are personal)

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