The politics in Manipur has come under fresh turmoil following the withdrawal of support to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government from MLAs belonging to the National People’s Party (NPP), two independents and defections by three BJP MLAs to the Opposition. The Biren Singh-led government has probably now been reduced to a minority. The uncertainty in the numbers in the 59-member Assembly has been due to several defections in the last three years, beginning with former Minister T. Shyamkumar’s shift of allegiance from the Congress to the BJP in 2017. This enabled the BJP, with only 21 MLAs, to form the government with the support of the NPP, the four member Naga Peoples’ Front, an independent and an MLA belonging to the Trinamool Congress. The defection by Mr. Shyamkumar who went on to become a Minister in the ruling cabinet was not ruled on for disqualification for three years, before the Supreme Court intervened, stripping the Minister of his post and banned him from entering the Assembly in March 2020. Subsequently, the Speaker disqualified him. Seven more MLAs from the Congress had defected to the BJP since 2017, and the Speaker has yet to rule on their disqualifications. On Friday, only a select number of these seven, and most of whom had not gone back reportedly to the Opposition-fold were allowed by the Speaker to vote in the Rajya Sabha elections, whose results were disputed by the Congress. This might not survive a legal challenge. But the whimsical changes in loyalties have once again opened the door for the Congress to stake claim to form the government.
The shenanigans in Manipur are not unique to the State. The examples of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh most recently, and Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand earlier show the utter failure of the anti-defection law in curbing the brazen subversion of electoral mandates by legislators who get elected on the ticket of one party but do not find it inconvenient to shift to another, due to the lure of ministerial berths or financial gains. If the role of the Speaker who has the authority to decide upon defections has been utilised by ruling parties to engineer defections without inviting immediate disqualification in some cases, legislators have also adhered to the law in letter if not spirit by utilising the option of outright resignation. This begs the question whether the anti-defection law actually serves any purpose today. In the absence of any amendments to the law suitably, the only disincentive for defectors is the possibility that voters might punish them in a by-election. But as Karnataka recently showed, voters in some States have yet to discern candidacies beyond considerations of patronage and identity, emboldening parties to retain or seize power through immoral machinations.