Amidst all the debate over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, two significant developments have gone by without getting the attention they deserved.
One is the Supreme Court ruling on a crucial aspect of the anti-defection law, limiting the time-frame within which the House presiding officers—the Speaker or Chairperson—can decide on disqualification petitions.
The other is a Supreme Court direction to the Election Commission to come up with a framework to help curb criminalisation of politics. Both refine the set of rules relating to people’s representatives and political parties (a surrogate vehicle of democratic processes)—with the court setting itself up almost as a kind of clergy in between the people and their representatives.
To be sure, a three-month deadline to decide on matters of disqualification—for a member switching sides or abandoning the party he/she got elected from—is welcome.
However, the judicial insinuation that a presiding officer may not be a non-partisan referee is dangerous.
It sanctifies as a given the idea that the presiding officer will act on behalf of the ruling dispensation, in the interest of the party he/she represents.
Yes, this may be borne out by ground reality.
Nonetheless, it puts to question the constitutional sanctity of the Speaker’s post—an erosion particularly visible in the court’s suggestion that Parliament set up a tribunal of sorts to adjudicate upon anti-defection cases, trimming the Speaker’s powers.
As of now, ranks may close. Parliament is unlikely to pass laws curbing the Speaker’s role or debarring those chargesheeted in heinous crimes from elections. But this is a reality check, and introspection would be in order.
These are hallowed institutions whose sanctity the legislature is diminishing by its own irresponsible behaviour. That it leaves space for judicial commentary and intervention is truly only a symptom.