In a recent judgement, the Karnataka High Court upheld the disqualification of five independent MLAs from the Assembly. These MLAs, who had previously served as Ministers in the Yeddyurappa government, were disqualified along with 11 others after they withdrew their support to the government. The disqualifications raise some important questions on the working of the anti-defection law. While the law was framed in 1985 with the specific intent of 'combating the evil of political defections', over the years several unanticipated consequences have come to the fore. The primary among these is the erosion of independence of the average legislator. The need for an anti-defection law was first felt in the late 1960s. Of the 16 States that went to polls in 1967, Congress lost majority in eight and failed to form the government in seven. Thus began the era of common minimum programmes and coalition governments. This was accompanied with another development - the phenomenon of large scale political migrations. Within a brief span of 4 years (1967-71), there were 142 defections in Parliament and 1969 defections in State Assemblies across the country. Thirty-two governments collapsed and 212 defectors were rewarded with ministerial positions. Haryana was the first State where a Congress ministry was toppled. The Bhagwat Dayal ministry was defeated in the Assembly when its nominee for speakership lost out to another candidate. Congress dissidents defected to form a new party called the Haryana Congress, entered into an alliance with the opposition and formed a new government under the Chief Ministership of Rao Birender Singh (also a Congress defector). Haryana thus became the first State to reward a defector with Chief Ministership. Another Haryana legislator, Gaya Lal, defected thrice within a fortnight. The now well know terms 'Aya Ram' and 'Gaya Ram' that are often used to describe political turncoats owe inspiration to him. It was to address this issue that the anti-defection law was passed in 1985. This law amended the Constitution and added the Tenth Schedule to the same. The Supreme Court, in Kihota Hollohon vs. Zachilhu (1992), while upholding the validity of the law held that decisions of disqualification shall be open to judicial review.  It also made some observations on Section 2(1) (b) of the Tenth schedule. Section 2(1) (b) reads that a member shall be disqualified if he votes or abstains from voting  contrary to any direction issued by the political party. The judgement highlighted the need to limit disqualifications to votes crucial to the existence of the government and to matters integral to the electoral programme of the party, so as not to 'unduly impinge' on the freedom of speech of members. This anti-defection law has regulated parliamentary behaviour for over 25 years now. Though it has the advantage of providing stability to governments and ensuring loyalty to party manifestos, it reduces the accountability of the government to Parliament and curbs dissent against party policies. In this context, Manish Tewari's private member bill merits mention:  he suggests that anti-defection law be restricted to votes of confidence and money bills.  Such a move will retain the objective of maintaining the stability of the government while allowing MPs to vote freely (subject to the discipline of the party whip) on other issues. This brings us to the question - Is the anti-defection law indispensable? Is defection peculiar to India? If not, how do other countries handle similar situations? It is interesting to note that many advanced democracies face similar problems but haven't enacted any such laws to regulate legislators. Prominent cases in UK politics include the defection of Ramsay Macdonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, in 1931. He defected from his party following disagreements on policy responses to the economic crisis. Neither Macdonald nor any of his three cabinet colleagues who defected with him resigned their seats in the House of Commons to seek a fresh mandate. Australian Parliament too has had its share of defections. Legislators have often shifted loyalties and governments have been formed and toppled in quick succession. In the US too, Congressmen often vote against the party programme on important issues without actually defecting from the party. India might have its peculiar circumstances that merit different policies.  But, the very fact that some other democracies can function without such a law should get us thinking. Sources/ Notes: [1] PRS Conference note: The Anti-Defection Law – Intent and Impact [2] Column by CV Madhukar (Director, PRS) titled 'Post-independents' in the Indian Express

Yesterday, the Governor of Karnataka promulgated the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022.  The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions.  A Bill with the same provisions as the Ordinance was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in December 2021.   The Bill was pending introduction in the Legislative Council. 

In the recent past, Haryana (2022), Madhya Pradesh (2021), and Uttar Pradesh (2021) have passed laws regulating religious conversions.  In this blog post, we discuss the key provisions of the Karnataka Ordinance and compare it with existing laws in other states (Table 2). 

What religious conversions does the Karnataka Ordinance prohibit?

The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions through misrepresentation, coercion, allurement, fraud, or the promise of marriage.  Any person who converts another person unlawfully will be penalised, and all offences will be cognizable and non-bailable.  Penalties for attempting to forcibly convert someone are highlighted in Table 1.  If an institution (such as an orphanage, old age home, or NGO) violates the provisions of the Ordinance, the persons in charge of the institution will be punished as per the provisions in Table 1.   

Table 1: Penalties for forced conversion 

Conversion of


Fine (in Rs)

Any person through specified means

3-5 years


Minor, woman, SC/ST, or a person of unsound mind

3-10 years 


Two or more persons (Mass conversion)

3-10 years 


Sources: Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022; PRS.

Re-converting to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion under the Ordinance.   Further, any marriage done for the sole purpose of an unlawful conversion will be prohibited, unless the procedure for religious conversion is followed.  

How may one convert their religion?

As per the Ordinance, a person intending to convert their religion is required to send a declaration to the District Magistrate (DM), before and after a conversion ceremony takes place.  The pre-conversion declaration must be submitted by both parties (the person converting their religion, and the religious converter), at least 30 days in advance.  The Ordinance prescribes penalties for both parties for failing to follow procedure.

After receiving the pre-conversion declarations, the DM will notify the proposed religious conversion in public, and invite objections to the proposed conversion for a period of 30 days.  Once a public objection is recorded, the DM will order an enquiry to prove the cause, purpose, and genuine intent of the conversion.  If the enquiry finds that an offence has been committed, the DM may initiate criminal action against the convertor.  A similar procedure is specified for a post-conversion declaration (by the converted person).  

Note that among other states, only Uttar Pradesh requires a post-conversion declaration and a pre-conversion declaration.

After the religious conversion has taken place, the converted person must submit a post-conversion declaration to the DM, within 30 days of the conversion.  Further, the converted person must also appear before the DM to confirm their identity and the contents of the declaration.   If no complaints are received during this time, the DM will notify the conversion, and inform concerned authorities (employer, officials of various government departments, local government bodies, and heads of educational institutions).  

Who may file a complaint?

Similar to laws in other states, any person who has been unlawfully converted, or a person associated to them by blood, marriage, or adoption may file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.   Laws in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh allow certain people (those related by blood, adoption, custodianship, or marriage) to file complaints, after seeking permission from the Court.  Note that the Karnataka Ordinance allows colleagues (or any associated person) to file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.


*In Chirag Singhvi v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court framed guidelines to regulate religious conversions in the state.