Lok Sabha elections 2019: Congress to release manifesto tomorrow, may push for tougher anti-defection law
The Congress is likely to pledge changes to the anti-defection law to ensure automatic disqualification of lawmakers in case they switch parties, apart from promises such as a minimum income guarantee for the poor and various agrarian and indirect tax changes, in the party’s manifesto that will be released on Tuesday ahead of the staggered national polls from April 11.
People with direct knowledge of the matter said that the party, in its draft manifesto, has proposed that a speaker of an assembly should no longer have the authority to disqualify defectors.
The Congress has lost nine of its 19 legislators to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) since December 2018 state elections.
These are among a series of defections the party has faced in states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Telangana, Karnataka and Gujarat since 2014, when it lost power to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre.
The anti-defection law was added to the Constitution as the 10th Schedule through the 52nd amendment in 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister. It says that lawmakers can be disqualified if they voluntarily give up their membership, abstain, or vote contrary to a party’s directives in Parliament and the state assemblies. It specifies that only two-third members of a party can form a new political group or merge with another party.
The Congress is also likely to promise martyr status for central paramilitary forces personnel killed in action.
Constitutional expert and former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary said some speakers do not decide such matters in time and underlined the need for speeding up the process.
“There are concerns among political parties… that speakers, in connivance with the ruling parties, do not decide disqualification matters on time. As a result, the defected legislators continue to be members. This is certainly a violation of the anti-defection law,” he said.
Achary said the law, at the same time, prescribes a certain procedure. “A speaker has to give defected legislators sufficient time to explain their conduct. So, an instant disqualification will go against the principles of natural justice.”
He said a time limit should be set for a speaker to decide such matters.
The manifesto will also have details about the Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s promise last week that his party would guarantee an income of rupees 72,000 annually for India’s poorest families if it comes to power, according to the people cited above.
It will also spell out a universal health care scheme and steps for jobs creation and farm loan waivers.
The other proposals likely to be a part of the manifesto include keeping agriculture-related machines and fertilisers out of the ambit of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the liberalisation of the loan dispersal process to address agrarian distress, the people added.
Last Friday, Gandhi promised a restructured Planning Commission would replace the government think tank Niti Ayog if the Congress comes to power. His party has also pledged to abolish Angel Tax, which refers to refers to the income tax unlisted companies pay on capital raised by issuing shares, and 33% reservation for women in Parliament, state assemblies and government jobs.
The Congress has proposed agriculture and education councils on the lines of the GST Council, an increase in the budget for universities and higher education besides free education until class 12, the people said.
In the draft manifesto, the party has also promised to fill vacancies in the government sector within 12 months of coming to power to address unemployment.
It would lay special emphasis on researchers and scientists and consider regularisation of contractual teachers.