Cross-voting in Rajya Sabha elections

Cross-voting in Rajya Sabha elections


In the news

The recent Rajya Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Karnataka saw instances of cross-voting by legislators from various political parties, sparking renewed concerns about the integrity of the electoral process.

How are elections conducted in the Rajya Sabha?


  • Rajya Sabha elections are conducted to fill the seats in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, known as the Council of States or Rajya Sabha. 
  • Rajya Sabha elections are a vital aspect of India's parliamentary democracy, and ensuring their fairness and transparency is essential for upholding democratic values and principles.

Composition of Rajya Sabha

  • The Rajya Sabha comprises representatives from the States and Union Territories, as well as individuals nominated by the President of India.

Election Process

  • According to Article 80 of the Constitution, representatives of each State to the Rajya Sabha are elected indirectly by the elected members of their respective Legislative Assembly.
  • The polls for Rajya Sabha are conducted only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies.

Nomination Procedure

  • Historically, Rajya Sabha elections were often a predetermined affair. Candidates nominated by various parties, based on their strength in the Legislative Assembly, were typically elected unopposed.

Introduction of Competitive Elections

  • However, the dynamics of Rajya Sabha elections changed following the June 1998 elections in Maharashtra.
  • These elections saw instances of cross-voting, leading to the unexpected loss of a candidate from the Congress party.

Implications of Cross-Voting

  • Cross-voting occurs when members of a particular party vote for candidates from other parties, contrary to their party's instructions.
  • Such occurrences raise concerns about the integrity and transparency of the electoral process.
  • Cross-voting can result in unexpected outcomes and impact the political balance in the Rajya Sabha.

Need for Electoral Integrity

  • Ensuring the integrity of Rajya Sabha elections is crucial for upholding democratic principles and maintaining the credibility of the legislative process.
  • Transparent and fair elections are essential for representing the interests of the people and upholding the spirit of democracy.

Role of Legislative Assemblies

  • The members of Legislative Assemblies play a significant role in shaping the composition of the Rajya Sabha through their voting in the elections.
  • Their decisions impact the representation of States and Union Territories in the Upper House of Parliament.

The case of the Himachal Pradesh Rajya Sabha election

  • Six Congress MLAs in Himachal Pradesh faced disqualification under the Tenth Schedule for contravening the party whip and remaining absent during the Assembly's Budget passage.
  • Notably, political parties lack the authority to take action against any MLA under the 10th Schedule regarding voting in Rajya Sabha elections, as whips cannot be issued for such votes.

Open Ballot System

To mitigate concerns surrounding cross-voting in Rajya Sabha elections, a pivotal amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 was enacted in 2003, ushering in the open ballot system.

  • Legislative Reform: The amendment specifically targeted Section 59 of the Act, instituting a mandate for all Rajya Sabha elections to adopt the open ballot mechanism.

  • Voting Procedure: Under this revamped system, MLAs affiliated with political parties are mandated to publicly display their ballot papers to their party's designated representative before casting their votes.

  • Ensuring Transparency: Non-compliance with the directive to exhibit the ballot paper to the authorized party agent, or revealing it to unauthorized individuals, results in the nullification of the vote. This stringent measure fosters transparency and holds legislators accountable for their voting choices.

  • Independent MLA Protocol: Independent MLAs are explicitly prohibited from showcasing their ballots to anyone, a precautionary measure aimed at safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process from undue external influence.

  • Objective: The introduction of the open ballot system is fundamentally geared towards curbing instances of cross-voting, reinforcing party discipline, and preserving the integrity of the electoral process within the Rajya Sabha.

  • Legal Implications: Enshrined within the Representation of the People Act, this provision reflects the statutory framework governing electoral practices in India, ensuring adherence to democratic principles and procedural fairness.

  • Impact Analysis: By bolstering transparency and deterring illicit practices such as vote-buying or coercion, the adoption of the open ballot system enhances the credibility and legitimacy of Rajya Sabha elections, upholding the democratic ethos of the nation.

What are the provisions of the Tenth Schedule?

The Tenth Schedule, introduced by the 52nd constitutional amendment in 1985, encompasses the 'anti-defection' law, which governs the conduct of members of Parliament or State legislatures. 

Here's what it entails:-

  • Membership Conditions: A member of a House of Parliament or State legislature who voluntarily relinquishes the membership of their political party or votes against the directives of their party within the House is subject to disqualification from said House.
  • Role of Whip: Instructions regarding voting conduct are typically communicated by the 'whip' of a party, and contravening these instructions constitutes grounds for disqualification.

However, it's crucial to note the following exception:-

  • Rajya Sabha Elections: Unlike proceedings within the Legislative Assembly, elections to the Rajya Sabha fall outside the purview of the Tenth Schedule.
  • Election Commission Clarification: In July 2017, the Election Commission clarified, citing Supreme Court judgments, that the stipulations of the Tenth Schedule regarding voting against party directives do not apply to Rajya Sabha elections.
  • Absence of Party Whip: Consequently, political parties are precluded from issuing any form of 'whip' to their members participating in Rajya Sabha elections, as the voting process is overseen by the Election Commission and not conducted within the House itself.

Provisions Under the Anti-Defection Law (Tenth Schedule)

Disqualification of Members of Political Parties

A member of a House associated with any political party may face disqualification under the following circumstances:

  • Voluntary renunciation of party membership.
  • Voting or abstaining in the House against the party's directive without prior permission, and the party failing to condone the action within 15 days.

Disqualification of Independent Members

  • If an independent member joins any political party after the election, disqualification proceedings may be initiated against such member.

Nominated Members

  • Nominated members of a House are subject to disqualification if they join any political party after six months from assuming their position.
  • Joining a political party within the initial six months does not lead to disqualification.

Power to Disqualify

  • The authority to decide on disqualification matters related to defection rests with the Speaker or Chairman of the House, and their decision is deemed final.
  • If there is a complaint against the Chairman or the Speaker, a member of the House, elected within the House, makes the disqualification decision.

Constitutional Validity of the 10th Schedule

  • The validity of the 10th Schedule and anti-defection law was challenged in the case of Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu And Others (1992).
  • In this landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India upheld the validity of the law.

What are the court rulings regarding Rajya Sabha elections and defection?

  • Kuldip Nayar v. Union of India (2006)
    • The Supreme Court, in this case, affirmed the practice of open ballots for Rajya Sabha elections. It argued that transparency in voting processes can mitigate corruption risks associated with secrecy.
    • However, the court also clarified that voting against one's party candidate in such elections does not warrant disqualification under the Tenth Schedule. Instead, the dissenting MLA may face internal disciplinary action from their party.
  • Ravi S. Naik and Sanjay Bandekar vs Union of India (1994)
    • The Supreme Court's ruling in this case established that voluntarily giving up party membership, as outlined in the Tenth Schedule, extends beyond formal resignation. 
    • The court emphasized that a member's actions both inside and outside the legislative house could be scrutinized to determine if they have indeed relinquished their party affiliation voluntarily.

Moving forward

  • Upholding Free and Fair Elections: The court's endorsement of the open ballot system for Rajya Sabha elections underscores the commitment to maintaining the integrity of the electoral process. However, the prevalence of cross-voting in recent years has undermined the original intent behind this procedure.
  • Challenges in Legislative Amendment: While further amendments to strengthen constitutional provisions or laws against such voting practices may seem ideal, the political landscape often prioritizes self-interest, particularly for ruling parties. This poses a challenge to enacting meaningful legislative changes to address cross-voting.
  • Judicial Vigilance: Despite legislative hurdles, the Supreme Court has demonstrated its dedication to preserving democracy. In a notable case involving the Chandigarh Mayoral election, the court vowed to prevent any assaults on democratic principles.
  • Seriousness of Cross-Voting: Cross-voting in Rajya Sabha elections presents a grave threat to the democratic process. Recognizing the severity of this issue, the court may take proactive measures to safeguard democratic values.
  • Potential Legal Action: The court could take the initiative by launching a suo moto Public Interest Litigation or by addressing the matter when appeals regarding the disqualification of six MLAs in Himachal Pradesh are presented.
  • Revisiting Legal Precedents: There's a possibility that the court may reassess its previous rulings, particularly in light of recent judgments such as the Ravi Naik case. This reevaluation could lead to viewing voting against party lines in Rajya Sabha elections as sufficient grounds for disqualification under the Tenth Schedule.

Deterrent Against Cross-Voting: Should the court determine that voting against party lines constitutes voluntary relinquishment of party membership, it could serve as a significant deterrent against future instances of cross-voting.