Anti Defection Law

Reasons for splits and switches in political parties


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Defections and effectiveness of anti-defection law


In Maharashtra, recently, and in Madhya Pradesh, a while ago, splits in the ruling party and a subsequent realignment of legislators inaugurated new governments.

Challenges to the effectiveness of anti-defection law

  • Splits and switches are commonplace in legislatures across the globe, and India has witnessed at least three distinct waves.
  • The first wave occurred towards the latter half of the 1960s when challengers to the Congress attempted to displace it in the States.
  • An attempt to end defections: The next phase was inaugurated with an attempt to end the free movement and regulate the behaviour of legislators through the anti-defection law.
  • Law incentivise collective defection: While the law discouraged individual movement, it incentivised a collective movement of legislators since it laid down specific numbers to legitimise and validate party switches.
  • Defeating the purpose: When legislators switch in groups, the costs are shared, and the move also appears less opportunistic, which in many ways defeats the purpose of the legislation.
  • The third phase was inaugurated in 2014 when already-dominant parties began to use splits and switches to weaken and destroy their competitors.
  • Therefore, the current phase is bizarre when compared to the past because dominant parties appear to be actively cheering splits and shifts and having no respect for the basic rules of the game.
  • The anti-defection law and control of institutions are now weaponised by dominant parties to intervene in the internal working of Opposition parties, and sometimes make and break them.
  • Furthermore, legislators are switching support even if it does not count to the making or maintenance of governments.

Argument against the split

  • Violation of trust: Switchers violate the trust relationship with their constituents as voters get something other than what they bargained for.
  • Difficulty in ensuring accountability: Assuming voters vote for parties and not candidates, the argument is that uncohesive parties make it difficult for voters to draw definitive lines of responsibility.
  • Consequently, it is difficult for voters to hold party governments accountable for their actions during elections.

Why do legislators split and switch parties?

  • Changes and transformation in parties: While we keep track of party system change, we ignore the point that the component parts, parties which make up the system, too change and transform.
  • Parties constantly adapt new modes to sustain and find success for themselves.
  • Our popular image of a party is that of the classical mass party, which rises from societal movements and is essentially internally democratic.
  • This is what even the Election Commission of India imagines a party should be since many of its guidelines lay stress on the ‘democratic spirit’ and the need for transparency and participation in internal decision-making.
  • Centralised structure: Today’s parties are centralised vote-getting machines which primarily work to ensure the return of political leaders to office.
  • Focus on getting votes: Mass inputs and ideas do not matter, and it is the central leadership that counts. All party activities begin and end with elections.
  • Since parties are mainly concerned with electoral success, anyone who enjoys the confidence of the top leadership and can help increase the seat share is likely to get a ticket.
  • Dominance of financial power: Moreover, we now know that parties prefer candidates who bring in their own money, fund other candidates and raise resources for the party. All this puts the party on the ground in the shade.
  • Closeness of parties to state: the most significant change is that parties are more closely aligned with the state rather than civil society.
  • Parties as a source of services: Parties exchange material and psychological rewards, and goods and services the state provides for electoral advantage.
  • Voters also see parties as a supplier of services.
  • This connection pushes legislators and parties to be in government or at least close to the government.
  • On the supply side, the party on the ground no longer calls the shots; parties are election vehicles and a supplier of services. The party bond exists only as long as it ensures success for the legislator
  •  On the demand side, the voter does not appear to have any problem, as long as “services” are available.


Splits and switches are not seen as objectionable by legislators and are not punished by voters as well. Legislators will, therefore, be willing to do anything if the benefits exceed the costs.

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