Anti Defection Law

Political crisis in Maharashtra underscores ineffectiveness of anti-defection law


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Tenth schedule

Mains level: Paper 2- Anti-defection law


The political crisis in Maharashtra has brought focus back on the anti-defection law. By all accounts, the law has failed to shore up the stability of elected governments.

About Anti-defection law

  • The Anti-Defection Law under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution punishes MPs/ MLAs for defecting from their party by taking away their membership of the legislature.
  • It gives the Speaker of the legislature the power to decide the outcome of defection proceedings.
  • It was added to the Constitution through the Fifty-Second (Amendment) Act, 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was PM.
  • The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

How provisions of the law are being thwarted?

  • There are many ways to thwart provisions of the law:
  • The Speaker can sit on the defection pleas for the term of the assembly;
  • The beneficiary party can facilitate accretion of defectors to hit the magic two-thirds threshold.
  • The voters don’t seem to care about punishing the defectors either.

Is an amendment to the law a solution?

  • Some have thus argued that the way forward is to amend the anti-defection law to fill these lacunae by mandating time-bound decisions by the Speaker and disqualifying defectors from standing for the next election as well.
  • These proposed amendments like the original law want to consolidate power without necessarily putting in the requisite politics.

Why amendment to the law will not solve the problem

  •  Politicians are adept at subverting institutional processes for their own ends and there are many possibilities for payoff for defectors outside of elected office alone.
  • Moreover, politics has a rich history of exercise of power by proxy and the disqualified representative may simply choose to have a family member stand in their stead.
  •  The anti-defection law and proposed amendments approach the issue of defections from the prism of denying power to the defector, a framing which repeatedly comes up short in the face of a bigger and/or more punitive power.

Way forward

  • Parties need to project power: Within this framework, if political parties want to resist defections, they must be able to project (imminent) power themselves.
  • Parties need to address organisational issues: At the same time, political parties must address organizational and ideological infirmities which have made them susceptible to mass defections in the first place.
  • Ideological clarity: Political parties need ideological clarity and the ability to attract individuals with a sense of purpose and not love for power alone.
  • This ideological depth if reflected in the party organization and its political programs will give members the ability to withstand lean periods of power.
  • Inner-party democracy: Political parties are failing to create intra-party forums where grievances can be expressed and resolved on an ongoing basis.
  • Internal mechanisms for inner-party democracy – from elections to deliberative forums – are ultimately at the discretion of the party leadership.
  • Scrap anti-defection law: Scrapping the anti-defection law would provide some institutional leverage to express intra-party dissidence and while it may be more chaotic in the short-term would lead to greater stability and political strength in the long-term.
  • Contributed to polarisation: The anti-defection law has undermined not just the very principle of representation but has also contributed to polarization in our country by making it impossible to construct a majority on any issue outside of party affiliation.
  • Avoid ceding political power to the judiciary: Political parties are repeatedly giving primacy to legal instead of political battles since these issues inevitably end up in court.
  • This repeated ceding of political power to the judiciary is a serious deviation from the democratic paradigm and must be checked.


Anti-defection law has failed to prevent the defections and subsequent toppings of the several state government. Scrapping it could provide leverage to express intra-party dissidence.

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