Perspective | Oped


A Tribune Special
Pitfalls of anti-defection law
Politicians have circumvented the Act for selfish ends, says Hemant Kumar
he ruling Congress in Haryana has emerged as the single largest party in the recent Assembly elections. Though it fell six short of a simple majority, its tally has gone up in the House, thanks to the provisions of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which allowed floor-crossing by five out of six legislators of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) into its fold.

Fighting injustice and inequality
by Bharat Dogra
n recent years, there has been an increasing tendency in South Asia of movements demanding equality and justice to drift towards violence. This is particularly seen in the growth of Maoist movements in India, Nepal and Bhutan.


Cutting carbons
November 28 2009
One year after 26/11
November 27 2009
Boost for ties with US
November 26, 2009
Babri trauma revisited
November 25, 2009
Fragile peace in Assam
November 24, 2009
Sena goes berserk
November 23, 2009
Arresting urban decay
November 22, 2009
Damage control on China
November 21, 2009
Whiff of fresh air
November 20, 2009
Limits of power
November 19, 2009
Sachin for India
November 18, 2009
Mamata on the move
November 17, 2009
Tackling future Headleys
November 16, 2009


Empowering citizens
How best to make RTI a success
by Rajvir S. Dhaka
he enactment of the RTI Act, 2005, is a laudable step. It covers not only the public sector but also NGOs and the private sector to some extent. It has various other positive features like the provision of First and Second Appellate Authorities.

Raj Babbar of Ferozabad
by Harihar Swarup
arely by-elections become so politically significant as the victory of the Congress candidate, Raj Babbar, from Ferozabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

On Record
Give women their due: Kanimozhi
by N. Ravikumar
animozhi, Member of Parliament and daughter of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, is a poet, journalist, feminist and social activist. She was a student of Chennai’s Church Park Convent and a postgraduate in economics.



A Tribune Special
Pitfalls of anti-defection law
Politicians have circumvented the Act for selfish ends, says Hemant Kumar

The ruling Congress in Haryana has emerged as the single largest party in the recent Assembly elections. Though it fell six short of a simple majority, its tally has gone up in the House, thanks to the provisions of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which allowed floor-crossing by five out of six legislators of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) into its fold.

This was operationalised under the guise of “merger” without attracting any penal consequences of defection. And all the formalities of merger were completed in record time by the Assembly Speaker.

Earlier, the key to government formation and ensuring its stability was in the hands of seven Independents who were regarded as the real winners after the elections threw a fractured verdict. The Congress scored a first by wooing these lucky seven who helped Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda win the confidence of the House.

All the Independents were amply rewarded for their support to the government: one of them became a Cabinet Minister, three Ministers of State and the other three Chief Parliamentary Secretaries.

Nowadays, it has become a habit for non-serious candidates and those who are denied party tickets to contest elections as Independents. This malady is not confined to Haryana alone but almost every state. If they get elected, they bargain for loaves and fishes of office. And if they are defeated, they lose nothing — at the most, they may be expelled from their parties. Such is the present position in Haryana that every MLA means a lot for the ruling party.

Unfortunately, Independents can change their loyalty towards any group at any time during the tenure of the House. The Anti-Defection law, as incorporated in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, can do little to prevent defections. Under the law, the Independents will attract disqualification if they join any political party in the House. This is in sharp contrast to the privilege extended to the nominated members. A nominated member can join a political party or group within six months of taking his/her oath of office in the House.

The Independents, to save themselves from disqualification, always tend to extend only outside support to the ruling party. Unfortunately, the immunity duly sanctioned under the Act, is often exploited by them for their personal ends. As they play musical chairs at different intervals of their tenure, they have made a mockery of the parliamentary democracy.

It was perhaps due to this malady that the Law Commission had recommended that Independents should not be allowed to contest elections. To tame casual and non-serious candidates, even the Election Commission, in its draft proposals on electoral reforms, had recommended raising their security deposit and increasing the number of their proposers for filing their nomination papers in the elections. The Rajya Sabha has very recently passed an amendment to the Representation of People Act providing for increasing the securiy deposit of the candidates contesting the elections.

Whenever a party or a pre-poll alliance emerges as the single largest party or group after the elections and fails to get a simple majority, it devises ways to circumvent the Anti-defection law and allows hassle-free floor crossing by members of Opposition parties to cobble together a majority and ensure stability of its regime.

It was to check the menace of defections, commonly referred to as “Aya Ram Gaya Ram” politics, that the Tenth Schedule was incorporated in our Constitution as far back as 1985. To remove certain shortcomings, though the Act was amended in 2004, it was a half-hearted attempt as defections continue unabated, though in different ways, polluting the fabric of the polity.

Worthy of mention in this context is the Karnataka case. In the May 2008 Assembly elections, though the BJP emerged as the single largest party, it failed to get a simple majority. Subsequently, it wooed all the Independents and formed the government.

In due course, the BJP persuaded certain members from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) to resign from their parties as well as Assembly seats and seek re-election on the BJP ticket. All of them who took the call are now safely ensconced in ministerial or equivalent posts. After a series of by-elections, the B.S. Yeddyurappa government now commands a comfortable majority in the State Assembly as the BJP’s strength has gone up considerably. But the issue remains: the Anti-defection Act can do little to prevent such tactics by the powers that be.

Goa, too, has been a hub of horse-trading. In early 90s, even the Speaker joined defectors to become the Chief Minister. North-eastern states like Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are also afflicted with this malady. These states have witnessed confrontation between the Speakers and Governors and in some cases the Supreme Court has passed strictures. Though one cannot rule out the influence of money power in engineering defections, one can safely say that in cases where money did not change hands, defectors have been suitably rewarded with ministerial or equivalent posts.

The National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution (NCRWC) has recommended the ceiling of 10 per cent of the strength of the popular House on the size of Council of Ministers as well as the limit of two per cent of the same on creation of political offices with the rank, perks and privileges of a Minister. However, the Constitution was only amended in respect of total number of ministers, that too, up to a size of 15 per cent. As regards curtailment on creating other analogous offices like Chief Parliamentary Secretary, little has been done.

The Anti-defection law has been diluted in Rajasthan too. The Congress government headed by Mr Ashok Gehlot, then sustaining on the Independents’ support after the November 2008 Assembly elections, succeeded in getting the six-member BSP legislature group’s merger with the Congress. A case is pending in the Rajasthan High Court.

Significantly, the NCRWC had recommended an amendment to the Act, banning all kinds of defections — by an individual legislator or group of legislators. While the NDA government has repealed in 2004 the so-called one-third defection provision, popularly called the “split rule” from the Tenth Schedule, the provision with respect to recognising “mergers” was left untouched, thus helping opportunist politicians to circumvent the law.

If defection by one-third members of a party is bad, how can it be justified by two-thirds of the members as approved by the statute in the merger paragraph? This loophole needs to be plugged to check defections.

Another notable recommendation of the NCRWC was in respect of adjudicating matters of disqualification in respect of defecting legislators, which presently lies in the hands of the Assembly Speaker with scope for judicial review.

It was sought to be vested in the Election Commission as over the years some Speakers have given different interpretations to the provisions of the Tenth Schedule much to the comfort of the ruling party (or their parent party). Former Lok Sabha Speaker Shivraj Patil drew flak after he recognised the split in the infamous Ajit Singh’s Janata Dal case during the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime.

Disturbingly, some Speakers delay decision on petitions for disqualification indefinitely to bail out the ruling party in any given crisis. This is the reason why ruling parties always appoint their own party candidates as Speaker.

The Supreme Court has come down heavily on the style of functioning of the Speakers. The best remedy would be to empower the President or the Governor, as the case may be, the final authority to decide upon disqualification of defecting legislators.

The advisory opinion of the Election Commission can be invoked, as prescribed under Articles 103 and 192 of the Constitution.

The serious blot on the parliamentary system can’t be washed away by amending the Anti-Defection Act. For, the politicians have no scruple to play politics for their selfish ends. They deserve to be sensitised on constitutional morality and ethics before going in for electoral reforms.

The writer is Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh



Fighting injustice and inequality
by Bharat Dogra

In recent years, there has been an increasing tendency in South Asia of movements demanding equality and justice to drift towards violence. This is particularly seen in the growth of Maoist movements in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

More recently as violence has escalated in Chhattisgarh and other parts of the tribal belt of Central India, the government has also launched a major offensive. Where will this take the country and what will be the implications for the innocent people caught in the crossfire?

Reflecting these concerns, a National Convention of the Citizens Initiative for Peace held recently in Delhi called for commitment to people on both sides. It asked the government to first stop the offensive in the areas where the CPI (Maoist) and other Naxalite parties are active, to facilitate a ceasefire.

At the same time, the resolution asked the Maoist and others to cease all hostilities against the state forces to facilitate a ceasefire. There should be no attacks on civilians by anyone and their lives must be secure.

Unconditional dialogue must begin between the government and the Maoists. People’s basic livelihood rights and democratic control over their natural resources must be ensured. This appears to be a very reasonable approach, but will the voice of reason and peace prevail?

To avoid such situations in future, a broader plea needs to be made in favour of peaceful struggles and movements for justice and equality. The legitimate demands of equality and justice can be better achieved at a lesser cost and in more stable ways by strong, broad-based peaceful movements. Large-scale violence can increase the overall problems of these countries and even lead to further deterioration in the life of those weaker sections whom the violent resistance movements claim to help.

From the point of view of the ordinary people of struggle areas, a long drawn-out violent struggle can mean an endless series of suffering. Several reports from these areas describe the plight of the people caught between the cadre of violent struggle groups and security forces. As both ask them at gun-point to be on their side, ordinary people can easily become the target of either the violent struggle groups or the security forces.

These problems intensify when there are divisions within the ranks of the violent struggle groups, or when security forces start arming villagers to create para-military squads among them. In fact, the proliferation of increasingly more destructive modern weapons as well as improvised devices has increased the possibility of more deaths and serious injuries in the course of these violent struggles. Many of the dead and injured are innocent civilians who have no protection and can easily be caught in the crossfire, or fall victims to improvised explosive devices.

Many gains made by the weaker sections as a result of violent struggles are not stable. Whether these households can cultivate the land allotted to them by struggle groups or harvest its crops depends on whether the struggle groups are in control or in retreat. For land and other gains to be stable, legal recognition by the same system is needed which the struggle seeks to overthrow.

It is not possible for a violent movement to benefit from a wider democratic debate. By its very nature, a very violent secretive movement has to confine debate of critical planning and strategy decisions to a relatively narrow group.

Even within this narrow group, free discussion may not always be possible with respect to more basic formulations which have been taken for granted. On the other hand, peaceful movements can be much more transparent and benefit from the opinion of many wide-ranging sources.

In a peaceful movement any problem within the movement or failure of the leadership is more likely to come in for public scrutiny so that remedial steps can be taken at an early stage. On the other hand, in a violent struggle this may be delayed for too long and finally violence within the group may have to be used to sort out problems brought out peaceful transitions of governments for a long time now.

Therefore, the right way to fight injustice and inequality is to establish very broad alliances of weaker sections for non-violent struggles. All others who are sympathetic to such peaceful struggles can also join in.

These peaceful struggles certainly have the right of such mobilisation as may be needed to provide protection to their activists from violent attacks, but as a matter of principle they will not unleash any violence on their own.

Their means of achieving success should be their ability to have a very broad alliance of vast number of people and making effective use of all democratic, peaceful means of mobilisation and protest.



Empowering citizens
How best to make RTI a success
by Rajvir S. Dhaka

The enactment of the RTI Act, 2005, is a laudable step. It covers not only the public sector but also NGOs and the private sector to some extent. It has various other positive features like the provision of First and Second Appellate Authorities.

It is also one of the toughest legislations in the world as it is the only RTI Act imposing penalty for any contravention of its provisions. After four years of its implementation, it can be said that the response to this Act has been very positive. People are learning the importance of the power of information. That is why every section has been seeking information from the authorities.

Public Authorities and Public Information Officers are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibilities. It has been a learning experience for each entity involved in the working of the law.

However, mere conferment of the right is not enough. There have been various apprehensions like the misuse of the Act, blackmailing of the officers and burden on the government exchequer. Besides, there have been many operational impediments in the effective implementation of the Act like non-designation of RTI functionaries in several organizations, especially in semi-government and autonomous organisations.

Moreover, many public authorities, particularly at the district level, do not display names and details of PIOs on their notice boards. Junior officers are often appointed as PIOs who are unable to collect information from their departmental colleagues. Above all, while only PIOs can be penalised under the Act, they are not provided adequate infrastructure for performing their duties and responsibilities.

Owing to the absence of penal consequence, public authorities are yet to give shape to any time-bound action plan for the implementation of the RTI Act, especially suo motu disclosure.

Experience regarding seeking information is also not very encouraging. The fee charged and the manner of payment is not uniform. There is confusion about the head of accounts to which the application and other fees are to be credited. Most PIOs at the state and district levels are not cooperative and they sometimes force the applicants to withdraw applications.

People in rural areas find the appeal process expensive. Many times, there is just one First Appellate Authority for the whole department, that too, located at the capital cities. BPL exemptions are also being misused by unscrupulous elements.

The Information Commissioners are not frequently using the penalty clause against officials providing wrong or no information. As a result, an impression has been created that the government departments need not take this Act very seriously. The government departments also don’t always comply with the orders of the Information Commission.

The Commissions have not been provided with enough teeth and adequate infrastructure. Their autonomy is compromised as they have to rely on the government for infrastructure and support. The awareness is lacking among the information seekers and information providers both in urban and rural areas.

To overcome problems in its effective use, the governments should take steps to propagate this Act among the illiterate sections living in the villages. The states should increasingly use information technology or e-governance. Records in the government offices need to be digitised and indexed for easy retrieval. Video conferencing should be used extensively for hearing the appeals.
Proactive disclosure of public authorities should be audited by a team of government officials and NGOs. Penal provisions, as stipulated under the Act for malicious and unreasonable refusal of information, by the Information Commission should be strictly implemented. Compulsory training of officers of the Central and state governments on RTI should be organised.

What is most important at this juncture is to give a fair chance to the Act to operate without creating stumbling blocks and bottlenecks. There is a special duty cast upon the civil society organisations and public authorities to be vigilant so that the objectives of the Act do not get frustrated by the bureaucratic manipulations.

This necessitates an attitudinal change in the bureaucracy for the successful implementation of the RTI Act. At the same time, there is need to initiate suitable amendments in the conduct rules for public servants, create efficient information management system and more frequent use of this right by the media and citizens.

Effective operationalisation of the RTI requires capacity building of both the information providers and information seekers. Capacity building at the cutting edge functionaries forms the key element as it facilitates the first interface with the citizens.

Above all, the RTI Act can be made effective only through people’s active involvement. Much would depend on the seriousness of the Centre and the states and public authorities in fulfilling their obligations under the Act and in removing difficulties in the operationalisation of the Act. The Act is indeed a bold step and will go a long way in creating an enabling environment for maturisation of our constitutional mandate by empowering the citizenry.

The writer is on the faculty of the Haryana Institute of Public Administration, Gurgaon



Raj Babbar of Ferozabad
by Harihar Swarup

Rarely by-elections become so politically significant as the victory of the Congress candidate, Raj Babbar, from Ferozabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

He defeated Mulayam Singh Yadav’s bahu, Dimple, by a whooping margin of over 85,000 votes. A film star, Raj Babbar, was till the other day a member of the Samajwadi Party and elected to Parliament thrice, courtesy Mulayam Singh Yaday.

As a matter of fact, it was the SP supremo who gave a break in politics to the matinee idol but equations between Raj Babbar and Amar Singh soured, resulting in the former’s expulsion from the party.

Amar Singh has time and again lambasted Raj Babbar for contesting against Dimple, saying “look at him, he is contesting against bahu of Mulayam Singh who nurtured him in politics”. Reports say, initially Mulayam Singh was opposed to fielding Dimple but Amar Singh insisted that she should oppose Raj Babbar and he had his way.

Why film stars take to politics, bidding goodbye to the glamorous and money-spinning world of cinema? To them, the weird world of politics is more lucrative and more challenging.

Few enter politics because they want to serve the people. Entering portals of power is yet another attraction. Their screen image helps them to get popular in public life sooner than others. When people hear that a film hero will make a public appearance, they rush out to see him and hear him.

Raj Babbar is one such matinee idol who arouses peoples’ curiosity. He entertains them with film-style dialogues. He is known for his special style of dialogue delivery.

Though Raj Babbar has been successful both in films and politics, his personal life has not been so happy. He married Nadira, had two children but separated because he was madly in love with that talented actress, Smita Patil and married her.

Samita died after giving birth to a son, who was named Prateek. Reports say that Babbar has now patched up with Nadira.

Babbar’s last film, Yaraan Naal Baharaan, was released on October 7, 2005. He played the role Jimmy Shergil’s father and his daughter, Juhi Babbar, played the main lead in the film. He then joined the Samajwadi Party and got himself involved in politics.

Following a spat with Amar Singh, he was expelled from the Samajwadi Party, joined the late Prime Minister V P Singh and subsequently moved to the Congress which fielded him from Ferozapur Lok Sabha byelection to oppose Mulayam Singh’s daughter-in-law.

Born in Agra, 57-year-old Raj Babbar graduated from the National Institute of Drama in 1975. He performed in many movies and commercial films. Some of his roles have a negative shade.

Babbar started his film career with Sau Dina Saas ke (100 days of mother-in-law). B R Chopra’s Insaaf Ka Tarazu was a turning point in his career. In this film, he performed a villainous role. He became the first choice in B.R. Chopra’s films like Nikaah with Deepak Parashar and Salma Agha, and Aaj ki Awaz with Smita Patil. Some of Babbar’s popular films include Umrao Jaan, Rudaali, Itihaas and Prem Geet.

Raj Babbar is now a Rahul Gandhi loyalist. Rahul has set the task for him — work hard to make Mission 2012 a success by ensuring the return of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. He was also deputed to campaign in the ongoing Assembly elections in Jharkhand.

With Raj Babbar’s victory in the Ferozabad by-election, says Digvijay Singh, AICC general secretary in-charge of the party affairs in UP, the process of restoring peoples’ faith in the Congress has begun.

He is confident that the Congress is set on the course to form the next government in the state.



On Record
Give women their due: Kanimozhi
by N. Ravikumar


Kanimozhi, Member of Parliament and daughter of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, is a poet, journalist, feminist and social activist. She was a student of Chennai’s Church Park Convent and a postgraduate in economics.

She worked as Assistant Editor in The Hindu and was the Editor-in-Chief of the popular Tamil weekly Kungumam. She is also the founder of Karuthu (Opinion), a forum to encourage free expression of views. She was the brain behind the successful Chennai Sangamam, a grand exhibition of Tamil folk arts, aimed to preserve the dying ancient arts of Tamil Nadu.

From her dreamy world of poetry, she had stepped into the arena of politics, after her election as the DMK’s MP to the Rajya Sabha. She was a part of the MPs’ delegation from Tamil Nadu which visited the camps for the internally displaced Tamil families in Sri Lanka.

Incredibly polite and careful with her choice of words in an interview to The Tribune in Chennai, she shares her views on variety of topics.


Q: What was your motivation for poetry?

A: I was always attracted to words and language. Poetry is the highest form of expression through language and is the only one that is brief while conveying numerous meanings more than the actual words. This was very appealing to me.

Q: Do you have a favourite poet?

A: I cannot name a particular poet since it will mean that I agree with all his views. We like different things from different poets. I love the verses of Subramania Bharathi (noted Tamil poet who penned poems on India’s freedom struggle). But, this does not mean that I accept all his views.

I appreciate the works of poets in other languages too, but it does not mean that I agree with all their views. At a certain age, people tend to get inspired by certain people and agree with all their views. I am past that period.

Q: What was your goal in life?

A: My life was ordinary. I did not set any goals for myself. I did not aspire for a particular vocation. I had only a passion for poetry.

Q: Your forum Karuthu was started when the controversy over Tamil actor Kushboo’s remarks on chastity at its peak? Was it started to defend her views?

A: Karuthu was not started for a particular person. We felt that people’s freedom of expression was being crushed under the guise of religion or culture. So, an organisation which supported free expression of views was required. Karuthu is a very small effort to support democracy.

Q: Did your public life began with Karuthu?

A: I was involved in a number of apolitical fields. Though I haven’t spoken at DMK meetings, I have delivered speeches for the Communist Party. So my public life did not start with Karuthu.

Q: What are your priorities in politics?

A: Many of the dreams of Periyar (the founder of the Dravidian movement) was achieved through political power. For example, women’s right to inherit family’s property was advocated by Periyar. But it was achieved by a legislation when the DMK came to power in Tamil Nadu. It makes good sense to raise your voice for social change at the forum where the law of the land is decided.

Q: What is the present status of women in Indian society?

A: We have a long way to go as far as equality for women is concerned. Among women, even achievers, scholars, leaders in their own right are not treated as equal to males. I cannot say men are against women’s liberation. The social structure and customs are major factors against gender equality.

Q: What should be done to change the situation?

A: We want our rightful place in society. Do not deny what we deserve just because we are women. It is very important to teach women about their rights. Women have to be taught what the Constitution offers and what society has to offer them. Women’s education is important to create an awareness that they have the right to live as equal citizens. Empowerment of women does not mean that women will displace men. Empowerment is to take our rightful place in society and not to displace men.

Q: What about Chennai Sangamam?

A: Pongal is celebrated with zeal in Tamil Nadu. It is a festival for all, cutting across religion and classes. Such celebrations will help in overcoming the differences.

Q: Is there any advantage of being the Chief Minister’s daughter?

A: There are so many MPs. Aren’t you interviewing me just because I am his daughter?

Q: Are you satisfied with the progress achieved by your team’s visit to Lanka?

A: Over 50,000 people had been sent to their native places after our visit. However, the re-settled Tamils should be given equal rights on par with their Sinhalese counterparts and allowed to lead a peaceful and dignified life. This would be possible only through a political solution.

Q: Are the job fairs organised as part of the celebrations of the Chief Minister’s birthday successful?

A: The purpose of job fairs is to ensure that educated youths in semi-urban areas got attractive jobs as their counterparts in urban and metropolitan areas. The job fairs organised at Kariyapatti, Kanyakumari, Virudhunagar and Vellore districts were all successful as many people could get employment.



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