Political turncoats under Supreme Court scanner

The Supreme Court will examine whether elected lawmakers can defy the party whip, abstain from voting, resign and join a rival political platform without breaching provisions of stringent anti-defection laws. "This is not a case for summary disposal," a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra said. "What happens if a legislator does not obey the party whip? Remains absent? Does she/he come under the anti-defection law?

"Whether an absentee legislator can derail the Tenth Schedule by submitting an application for resignation?" the CJI asked on a plea involving a recent political crossover in Goa. India's tough anti-defection laws do not allow lawmakers to switch sides. If they do, they lose their seats except when a majority of legislators merge with another party.

The Congress filed a petition seeking the disqualification of MLA Vishwajeet Rane after he had defied a party whip to vote against the BJP-led coalition when Chief Minister Manohar Parikkar sought to prove his majority on the floor of the house in March, 2017. Although the Congress had 17 MLAs in the 40-member house, the BJP was the first to approach the Governor with its claim to form a government at the vanguard of a coalition.

The Parikkar-led government later won the trust vote 22 to 16. Rane, a vocal critic of the Congress' failure to form a government, defied the party whip to vote against the trust motion. He later quit the Congress and joined the BJP.

The Congress petition in court was argued by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who said that the court must step in and examine the principle of law involved in the case.

Goa, through former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, demanded that the court dismiss the plea. "I resigned. How can I be disqualified?" he sought to know. But Singhvi insisted that the court examine the case because of its constitutional ramifications.

Rane was sworn in as a Congress MLA and defied the whip, Singhvi argued. Under the anti-defection law, Rane stands disqualification for at least six years, he said. "He can't contest."

Reacting to his statement, Rohatgi dismissed his contentions as a "political slugfest".

The CJI insisted the issue was important, saying that the Speaker was pre-empted from acting against the MLA after he resigned. "The Speaker was prevented, preempted from acting against the MLA," he observed.

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