Bhubaneswar, Sept. 25: Absence of an anti-defection clause in the state’s municipal act is haunting political parties as they fear losing their urban poll winners to rivals.
The councils will be formed on September 30 after election of the chairpersons is held on that day.
Though in most of the cases the political parties have won absolute majority to form councils, yet they have started an exercise of taking their elected councillors to secret destinations to prevent horse-trading. The sense of fear has also triggered a debate that the municipal act should be amended to include the anti-defection clause to put an end to the “ill practice”.
Almost all elected councillors have already left their hometowns and have been taken to various undisclosed destinations within and outside the state to avoid defection. Many of them are being lodged in Puri, while others are being taken to Calcutta, Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and other places on a “pleasure trip”. They will return just a day prior to the election of chairpersons in various councils. Even cell phones of the elected members are switched off and they are only in touch with the party managers.
“Once a chairperson is elected, no ouster proposal can be moved against him or her for two years. So, it has become important for all to keep the flock together till September 30,” said a political activist. In the recently held elections, the BJD has gained majority in 41 urban bodies, the Congress in 10, and Independents hold the key in 15 urban bodies.
Special secretary of the State Election Commission Rabindra Nath Sahu said: “We have no anti-defection law for urban bodies. We cannot initiate any action against a party for poaching candidates from their rival camp.”
Arguing in favour of an anti-defection law to regulate activities of councillors, former Speaker Sarat Kar said: “As the civic polls were held on party symbols and chief minister Naveen Patnaik was seen engaged in political campaign, time has come to implement the anti-defection law to check horse-trading and poaching.”
Several lawyers also mirrored Kar’s feelings, suggesting that the anti-defection law should be applicable to all elected members, whether they were ward members or MPs.
“If an anti-defection law is applicable to the elected members of Parliament and Assemblies, why should it not be applicable to members of municipal councils, who contest on party symbols,” said lawyer Buddhadev Routray. He strongly demanded an amendment to the Orissa Municipal Act for incorporation of the anti-defection provision.
Another high court lawyer Dillip Kumar Mohapatra said: “There is a need for anti-defection provision in the Orissa Municipal Act to prevent covert shifting of loyalty by councillors elected on party lines and symbols to another party during election of chairman or mayor.”
The anti-defection law for MLAs and MPs was passed in 1985 through the 52nd amendment to the Constitution and added to the Tenth Schedule. The main intent of the law was to combat the evil of political defections. The law has undergone many changes. After the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, the panchayati raj institutions have been given constitutional sanctity. Though periodic elections and greater devolution of powers had been ensured for the grassroots-level democratic set-ups, elections to these bodies continue to be marred with various ills. Often, there have been suggestions that these elections should not be fought on party lines as it threatens to divide the society at village and community levels on party lines.
Former state election commissioner Debendra Mishra said: “The anti-defection law exists. It depends how the law is being interpreted and the courts’ observation on it.” In his view, the Anti-Defection Act could well be extended to the urban bodies.
Describing the entire process as a “mockery of democracy”, former law minister and Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said: “I will not object to political parties keeping their elected members together to avoid any sort of poaching by others. However, whoever resorts to horse-trading should be condemned.”
Mishra criticised the BJD government, alleging that it had a track record of being involved in horse-trading. “During the Rajya Sabha election in 2010, they did it. It is strongly believed that they resorted to horse-trading in the presidential election. Now, they are doing the same in municipal polls. Such activities should be condemned and discouraged,” he said, adding that it was high time that the anti-defection legislation was amended and horse-trading prevented.
Former chairman of the Sambalpur Municipality and BJP leader Suresh Pujari said: “Horse-trading in the urban elections can only be stopped if a direct election is held for the post of chairperson.”
However, panchayati raj minister and BJD vice-president Kalpataru Das said: “The party has never indulged in horse-trading. There is a perception among the elected councillors that if they join hands with the ruling party, they will be able to serve the people in a better way. They will also be able to keep all promises made to the people.”