The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Medicine or BJP bitter pill
- Anti-defection gun could turn on NDA in case of hung House

New Delhi, May 5: The medicine it was so keen to prescribe can become a pill too bitter for the BJP. That is, if the numbers do not add up to form a government after May 13.

The anti-defection act the National Democratic Alliance government enacted in December has effectively brought the curtains down on splits that bigger parties used to bank on to work up a majority.

Ministerial posts were dangled as carrots as they played on the greed of faction leaders to split smaller outfits to form a government. Now, a defector has to resign from his parent party and contest afresh on the symbol of the outfit he chooses to join.

The new law does not even recognise the earlier provision that legalised a split if one-third of a legislature party broke away. According to the amended provision, the national executive of a party will have to splinter, which makes defections extremely difficult.

Law minister Arun Jaitley had told Parliament in December that the measure was being taken as the experience of the last 18 years had shown that smaller parties have split mostly to join the ruling party to get ministerial posts. The move, he said, was “intended to curb this mischief”.

It would also help curb the problem of large ministries, he added. The new law restricts the size of the council of ministers at the Centre and in states to 15 per cent of the total number of members in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures.

Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had described the move as “a major milestone in electoral reforms”. Now, if it falls short of numbers, the BJP could find the law a millstone, as at least seven allies have left it after the law was passed. The only way out would be to lure parties to the NDA fold.

The BJP’s calculation was that none of the regional parties would back the Congress as they had grown up on a staple diet of anti-Congressism. It was also smug after its victory in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the December Assembly polls.

The law helped the BJP keep intact its Uttar Pradesh unit, which was susceptible to poaching by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. The BJP was also worried at that time over possible splits in allies like the Trinamul Congress, the Janata Dal (United), the Samata Party and the Biju Janata Dal.

However, the Congress has been, by default, the biggest beneficiary. In the wake of its crushing defeat in the Assembly elections, the party was on the verge of a split in Kerala, Punjab, Maharashtra and Uttaranchal. The act saved it.

When the bill was taken up for discussion in Parliament on December 16, professional party hoppers had warned both the BJP and the Congress. But a record number of 416 members (all present and none against) voted in favour.

Prabhunath Singh of the Samata Party, Dal (U)’s Devendra Prasad Yadav and Independent MP Pappu Yadav — all from Bihar — had warned that the legislation could lead to dictatorial tendencies among party leaders and that members would find their freedom of expression curbed.

But Jaitley, who piloted the act, said if a member felt so convinced about his point of view, he was free to resign and then raise the issue.

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