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In India, a Member of Parliament (MP) can lose their seat in several ways. Here are some of the common grounds for disqualification of an MP:
1. Disqualification on the grounds of defection: An MP can be disqualified if they voluntarily give up the membership of the political party on whose ticket they were elected. This is called defection. For example, if an MP was elected on a ticket from ABC party, but later decides to join some other XYZ party, they can be disqualified from their seat due to anti-defection law.
Now, where will you find this law? It is part of the 10th schedule of the Indian Constitution. As you may know, the Indian Constitution has 12 schedules. The 10th schedule talks about anti-defection law. If you look at the word defection it means the act of abandoning one’s loyalty or allegiance to a group or organization, especially a political party. It is often considered a betrayal of the party or group that the person was associated with, especially if the defection results in a shift in the balance of power or undermines the stability of a government. Defection is not limited to politics and can occur in other contexts as well.
The Parliament of India passed the Anti-Defection Law i.e. the whole 10th Schedule in the year 1985 through the 52nd amendment. This law is applicable not only to the member of parliament but also to the member of the legislative assembly. The objective of the Anti-Defection Law is to maintain a stable govt and political stability and discipline so that lawmakers do not change sides.
2. Disqualification for holding an office of profit: If an MP holds an office of profit under the government of India or any state government, they can be disqualified. This is to prevent any conflict of interest between the responsibilities of an MP and their other government roles. If you look at the Parliament (Prevention of disqualification) act 1959, it is this particular law that prevents any member of parliament from holding any office of profit. This act finds its power from Article 102 (1)(a) of the Indian constitution.
3. Disqualification due to absence: An MP can lose their seat if they remain absent from the Parliament for more than 60 days without permission. This is called Disqualification due to absence. While there is no specific rule regarding the number of days an MP should be present, but then, if an MP is absent from the House without leave or any prior permission for a period of sixty days or more, their seat can be declared vacant by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or the Chairman (VP of India) of the Rajya Sabha. Article 101 of the Indian constitution has the provision to disqualify an MP on the ground of being absent for a period of 60 days or more without any prior permission.
4. Disqualification on grounds of conviction: An MP can be disqualified if they are convicted of an offense and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two or more years. Now, this provision is given in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides that a person who is convicted of an offense and sentenced to imprisonment for two or more years is disqualified from being a member of Parliament, as well as from voting in any election from the day of conviction, for a period of six years from the date of release from prison. Again the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is a law made by the Indian Parliament which finds its core power from Article 102 (1)(e) of the Indian constitution.
How did Rahul Gandhi lose his parliamentary membership / MP status?
The Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a notification on Friday 24th March 2023, which states that Rahul Gandhi’s membership of Parliament has been cancelled due to his conviction and sentencing by a local court in Surat on Thursday 23rd March 2023. The notification explains that Rahul Gandhi is disqualified from being a member of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction (i.e. 23 March, 2023) as per the provisions of Article 102(1)(e) of the Constitution of India, along with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
In 2013, the UPA Government had brought an ordnance to shield convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification from the House.
What was the ordnance?
The ordinance brought by the UPA government in 2013 was the Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance. This ordinance sought to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and allow convicted lawmakers to retain their membership in the Parliament or state legislature if their appeal against the conviction was pending in a higher court. It also allowed them to contest elections.
However, Rahul Gandhi, at that time tore the ordinance. Ten years later, he has been convicted in a defamation case by a Surat court, and now after ten years, his own conviction in a defamation case by a Surat court on Thursday seems to have come back to haunt him.