Why are opposition MLAs crossing the political divide to join hands with the ruling parties in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh? Is it the lure of the lucre? If no, what is the magnet that’s attracting them towards the ruling parties?
Dangling the carrot of Section 26 (1) in the AP State Reorganisation Act (APSRA), chief ministers of AP and Telangana have so far scooped out at least a dozen MLAs each from the opposition in their respective states.
Section 26 (1) of the APSRA 2014 states: “Subject to the provisions contained in article 170 of the Constitution and without prejudice to section 15 of this Act, the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the successor States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana shall be increased from 175 and 119 to 225 and 153, respectively, and delimitation of the constituencies may be determined by the Election Commission…”
The two governments are beseeching the Centre to expedite the process of delimitation.
While Chandrababu Naidu sliced out a dozen MLAs from the only opposition party, the YSR Congress, in his state, those who joined the TRS in Telangana included twelve from the TDP, five from the Congress, two from the YSR Congress, two from the Bahujan Samaj Party. While all the TDP members in the Telangana state Legislative Council “merged the party” with the TRS in the Upper House, the TDP floor leader too submitted a letter to the Speaker of the Assembly to consider merger as 12 out of 15 members joined the TRS.
Ironically, the TDP, which opened the floodgates to admit opposition MLAs in AP, is crying hoarse in Telangana on the same issue.
The exodus of MLAs is continuing unabated as they are nursing great expectations of an increase in the total number of Assembly seats in their respective states. While KCR consolidated his position in the Assembly from a wafer-thin majority of 63 to a strong 87, Chandrababu Naidu wants to debilitate the opposition to comfortably win three Rajya Sabha seats in July.
A senior TDP legislator, on the condition of anonymity, said that citing the possibility of an increase in the number of Assembly seats, Chandrababu Naidu was admitting MLAs from YSR Congress in places where the TDP is very strong.
If delimitation does not happen before 2019 elections, the instances of MLAs switching sides would amount to the TDP gifting readymade candidates to the YSR Congress on a golden platter, the legislator pointed out. All the disgruntled candidates who lost to the YSR Congress nominees in 2014 may find refuge in the opposition to secure tickets. The TDP is trapping MLAs based on their caste; it has lured minorities, SCs, Kapus, Reddys and others in a meticulous manner. “It may not be the same for the TRS, as the party doesn’t have a strong opposition in Telangana,” he said.
However, things seem to be turning knotty and the fate of enhancement of seats hinges on enacting a Constitutional amendment, which is likely to become mandatory.
If an amendment has to be adopted, the same has to be passed with two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament and approval from at least half of the state assemblies across the country. It is indeed a tricky situation for all, if not prickly.
Though Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs M Venkaiah Naidu has been constantly talking about the increase in the number of seats, the TDP and TRS leaders feel that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is itself sceptical about taking up the process.
Even if the BJP wants to take it up, the irony is that the amendment to Section 3 of Article 170 of the Constitution blocks any change in the number of constituencies in the country until 2026.
Congress leader and former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, who was the chief architect of the APSRA 2014, told Firstpost that the process of delimitation in the country is frozen until 2026. Asked if the delimitation of Assembly seats in the two states, as a special case, is possible, he said that it is ‘unlikely.’
The TRS MP from Karimnagar B Vinod Kumar, however, insisted that the delimitation was possible. No big Constitutional amendments were required for enhancing the number of seats. Presenting an incisive analysis to buttress his argument, the MP told Firstpost that if the Parliament, by a simple majority, adopted a resolution replacing the phrase “subject to” in the aforementioned provision with the phrase “notwithstanding”, it would be enough for the Election Commission to take up the process with the approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
As Article 4 provides for a facility that any part of the Constitution could be amended, there was no need for the Parliament to go through the process prescribed under Article 368 -- securing two-thirds majority in both Houses and approval from half the total number of assemblies in the country for the purpose of delimitation in the two States of AP and Telangana, which was already enshrined in the APSRA 2014.
“When I intended to introduce a Private Member Bill, even the Lok Sabha Speaker’s office too raised this question. When I explained to them the position, the Bill was allowed to be introduced in the Parliament,” said Vinod Kumar.
In fact, the Telangana government made a strong pitch with the Centre to expedite the process of increasing the number seats on 19 February, 2016.
The total number of assembly constituencies under each Lok Sabha constituency may increase from 7 to 9 in both States, if the delimitation is effected. Of course, the population size would not get evenly distributed.
Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy, a TDP MLC in Andhra Pradesh, said that smaller states’ experience of unstable governments should be kept in mind and the number of Assembly seats must be increased, as committed in the APSRA 2014. He felt that if the Centre had commitment, the process could be completed in about a year, as no political party was opposed to the enhancement of number of Assembly seats in AP and Telangana. In fact, the National Democratic Alliance had the responsibility to fulfil this commitment, he said.
A senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, who did not want to be named, said there were two options in front of the Centre: 1. Amending the APSRA 2014; and 2. Amending the Representation of People Act.
If the first option is chosen, the demand for enhancement of seats in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and a few other smaller states would also come up. The second option too is equally complicated. For now, the government is planning to go with the first one.