Tough laws make defection impossible, but buzz persists

Even as the state’s tougher anti-defection law makes floor-crossing of a few legislators practically impossible, the open rebellion by PDP’s four legislators including a former minister has sparked speculations, with many anticipating a BJP-led coalition.
Tough laws make defection impossible, but buzz persists
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Even as the state's tougher anti-defection law makes floor-crossing of a few legislators practically impossible, the open rebellion by PDP's four legislators including a former minister has sparked speculations, with many anticipating a BJP-led coalition. Though the BJP's top brass has ruled out any such move, certain political developments during past fortnight, including the meeting between BJP leaders and party's ally Sajad Lone, have escalated the rumor mills. 

Constitutional experts, however, insist that the number of legislators wishing to desert a party should be two-third of the party's total seat count in the house. If the speculations about PDP suffering a "mass rebellion" within its ranks hold any truth, the number of those walking out of the party fold need to be more than 18 in order to evade disqualification under the anti-defection law. 

Meanwhile the experts differ over the role of speaker in a defection scenario. Majority of legal experts say the law empowers the legislative party leader of a particular party to have a final say about disqualifying the defecting group and the speaker holds no powers to challenge the decision. Some experts, however, cite a 2011 scenario wherein BJP had asked the speaker to disqualify seven of its members for defying the whip during elections for legislative council during the Omar Abdullah-led NC-Congress coalition government. Despite then BJP's legislative party leader Jughal Kishore's hectic urging the speaker evaded the decision till the government completed the term in 2014. 

"In case the rebelling group numbers less than two-third of the total party strength in house the entire group is liable to disqualification. The law will apply even if  the defecting members more than the remaining strength of the party because the defection is permitted only if the defecting group forms two-third strength of the total seat count of the particular party," said Jehangir Iqbal Ganai, former advocate general. 

According to Ganai J&K's anti-defection law, which was amended during the erstwhile Congress-PDP government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, was "much tougher and stronger" than other states.  Under 7th schedule of J&K constitution, he said, the leader of the legislature party has the powers to disqualify the defecting one or more members. "In rest of the states the speaker wields the power to disqualify the defecting group but here the legislative party leader has to just inform the speaker about the decision and decision remains final. This difference makes our anti-defection law ever sterner," Gania pointed out while citing the law. 

A former law secretary, however, said role of speaker "becomes important in the defection scenario". He said once the leader of legislature party disqualifies the rebelling group, the Speaker has to notify and issue a bulletin disqualifying the members after being informed by the legislative party leader. 

"That is where we have seen in the past how Speakers have acted," the former official said.

In 2011, the BJP had written to then Speaker to expel seven BJP members who had defied the party whip in MLC elections and voted in favor of then NC- Congress candidate.

Instead, the seven legislators claimed to be "real representatives" of the party and wrote to the Speaker to expel four MLAs, namely Ashok Khajuria (then leader of legislature party), Jugal Kishore, Choudhary Sham Lal and Choudhary Sukhnandan from the party. The Speaker sat on the BJP's demand to expel the seven legislators till Assembly completed its term. Back then the BJP had 11 legislators.

Today, the PDP has 28 MLAs in 87-member JK Assembly including four rebelling legislators. The BJP has 25 MLAs and enjoys support of two MLAs from Sajad Lone-led Peoples Conference and one legislator from Ladakh. For any party to stake claim to government formation, it would require support of 44 lawmakers.

At least four members of the PDP including former minister and influential Shia leader Imran Raza Ansari, his uncle and MLA Zadibalm, Abid Ansari, MLA Tangmarg Muhammad Abbas and MLA Baramulla Javed Baig have openly criticized former chief minister and party president Mehbooba Mufti for her leadership role.

"These are unusual time not just for PDP but entire political system of the state," commented senior PDP leader Naem Akhter. He was referring to the revolt by the party members. "Let's see how far it (rebellion) goes. We will wait and watch," he said.

Though the  BJP's point man for Kashmir Ram Madhav had told Greater Kashmir past week that  is party won't make any attempt to form the next government in the state by supporting a new political combination, reports suggest that the party was silently working behind the scene to stitch an alliance with dissenting lawmakers from different parties.

The rumors grew rifer past week when Madhav arrived here and after calling on Governor NN Vohra went meet Lone at a local hotel here. Many BJP lawmakers including the state president Ravinder Raina accompanied Madhav to meet Sajad Lone. 

The debate around anti-defection law assumes significance because the legislative assembly was put under suspended animation and not dissolved. "If the assembly is dissolved the MLAs cease to be legislators and the question of disqualification doesn't arise. Since the assembly is intact the MLAs defecting in numbers less than two-third of their party's seat count would suffer disqualification,"  said a constitutional expert.

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