There’s a fine line of distinction between public interest and political interest and it can often get blurred, when political interests are camouflaged in the garb of public interest. The High Court of Bombay at Goa brought this distinction to the fore in its order dismissing the petition of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) seeking the disqualification of two former Congress MLAs – Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte – who in October resigned their membership of the State Legislative Assembly and then joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. MGP had moved the court alleging that the resignations of the two MLAs were immoral and seeking their disqualification.
The High Court took a serious view of the MGP petition and in its order said, “We must place on record our displeasure for filing petitions by political parties with a view to achieve their political objectives and usurping the precious time of the Court which, otherwise, can be utilised for disposal of the matters brought before the Court by needy and poor.” Dismissing the petition the Court further said, “In view of the facts presented before us, we do not deem it appropriate to enter into the political questions presented for determination in the petition. The petition is in a way abuse of the process of the Court.” Strong words coming from the court.
Plainly speaking there was no defection as per the law in force, in the sense of crossing the floor of the House. The two MLAs resigned their membership of the House, resigned from the party and then joined the BJP, awaiting now a re-election to return to the Legislature, though in the meantime they have been appointed as chairmen of government corporations. The court takes decisions based on points of law and not on morality. The latter is a subject for the people and the political parties, and the political question has to be answered by them. An opportunity to do so will be presented soon.
Within the next four months the two MLAs will be facing the people’s court in the by-elections that have been necessitated by their resignations. It is here, at these by-elections, that the MGP has the best possible opportunity to ensure that what it considers as an ‘immoral’ act of the MLAs does not get them rewarded by being re-elected to the Legislative Assembly. Whether the regional party can work the by-elections in its favour or the writ petition in the High Court was merely a move to play to the galleries will be determined once the by-elections are announced and by the manner in which MGP conducts itself once the by-elections are announced.
The attempt has to be made to curb defections, which can happen only through amendments in the law. The existing law does not stop an MLA from giving up his membership of the House and then changing parties and seeking re-election. Since MGP has shown through the writ petition in the High Court and by its statements that it is troubled by defections, the party should champion the cause of amendments to the law to make any change of parties by MLAs unlawful and imposing a ban on an MLA changing sides from contesting an election for the next six years. Even just the latter will reduce defections tremendously.
In the absence of such a law, it is the people who play a role in deciding whether they want as a representative a person who has quit his party over issues that are not necessarily ideological in nature. The people’s response will be known in the coming months, but based on past experience where those changing parties have been re-elected, the MLAs can expect to be returned to the Assembly. It will require a concerted effort to keep them from being victorious again.