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Cross-voting has parties, poll pundits guessing

Vicky Nanjappa in New Delhi | July 21, 2008 11:18 IST

With just a day remaining for the big day at Parliament, parties are still uncertain as to what the end result would be.

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The United Progressive Alliance, National Democratic Alliance and the now emerging Third Front with the Left parties claim to have the requisite numbers to win the battle.

While this seems to be the case, none of the parties or their MPs can say with conviction what the final outcome of the trust vote would be. Even those parties, which have issued whips, are not sure which way their MPs would swing -- the general talk is that Tuesday's session of Parliament will see cross-voting like never before.

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Political pundits and legal experts feel the chances of cross-voting during a trust vote are usually the highest when elections are round the corner. MPs, who disobey whips, can afford to take chances. This is largely because of the fact that there is a bigger possibility of the House being dissolved before the privileges committee or the speaker can decide on the matter pertaining to their disqualification.

A Member of Parliament can be disqualified from the House under the anti-defection law mandated in the 10th schedule of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution provides that any member violating a whip can be disqualified from the House following a hearing by the Speaker of the House.

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In case a member has violated the whip issued by his party, then the party head registers a complaint with the speaker who is empowered to disqualify him after a hearing. The party which has given the complaint will have to prove before the speaker that a whip had been issued and not more than one third of its members had disobeyed the whip.

Coming back to the current scenario, it is expected that cross-voting will be maximum during the trust vote.

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Explains former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Santhosh Hegde, "Heavy cross-voting can be expected this time since the elections are just round the corner. MPs, who will disobey the whip of their party, have nothing much to lose. By the time, the Speaker decides on the matter, it would take a minimum of six months and by that time general elections will be announced. In case the government loses the trust vote, it would work out better for them as the entire house will be dissolved and the issue of disqualification will not arise."

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Senior advocate S K Kamath said, "The only danger that these MPs face in such a situation is that they will not be given tickets by their respective parties to contest the elections in case they disobey a whip. However, if they have an understanding with another party, then this problem too is taken care of as they are sure to be given tickets as a favour.

Kamath added, "In case a whip is disobeyed and the House is dissolved in the interim then there is no meaning to such a proceeding. The MPs are very well aware of the time factor in this case and hence would have no hesitation in cross-voting. From past experiences that one can draw, it could be seen that in such cases, the minimum time taken to decide a matter pertaining to disqualification is 5 to 6 months. There have been times when proceedings have dragged on for over a year too."

'Money cannot change my stand'

Moreover these matters do not end here and there are several MPs and MLAs who have challenged such decisions before the court, which only adds to a further delay.

Justice Hegde adds, "The irony is that disqualification has a very limited effect. In most cases we find that when an MP is disqualified, he contests from the very same constituency either on a ticket from a different party or as an independent once the by-elections are declared in the event of that seat becoming vacant. Unfortunately, there is no bar on such an MP returning to Parliament following the next election.

'It's become a game of the mafia'

Shahid Siddiqui, former SP leader who joined the BSP, recently said that cross-voting in Parliament will be high this time. "My sources tell me that the issue this time is very tricky as several MPs will indulge in cross voting and hence none can say which way the result would go. He says that disqualification may not be that much of an issue for those MPs who decide to violate the whip due to the fact that there is a very short time remaining for the next elections.

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