UCL Faculty of Laws


Hybrid | Democracy and Defections

04 October 2023, 2:00 pm–3:30 pm

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This event is organised by the UCL Public Law Group

Event Information

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UCL Laws


UCL Faculty of Laws
Bentham House
4-8 Endsleigh Gardens

Democracy and Defections: Political Parties and Representative Government in India

Speaker: Associate Professor Madhav Khosla (Columbia Law School)

About the Paper

In recent years, political parties have rightly become a key focus of attention within comparative constitutional law. There is an emerging consensus in the literature that political fragmentation, or the dispersion of power away from party leaders, has weakened parties, and undermined the functioning of legislative bodies across a range of diverse democracies. This Article considers legal efforts to curb fragmentation by prohibiting floor crossing or parliamentary “defections,” a constitutional innovation that recentralizes power in the hands of party elites. Through a detailed case study of India, the world’s most populous democracy, we show how legal remedies to reverse fragmentation can affect accountability and representation, often in unintentional and adverse ways. Quite apart from such impacts, the Indian case, as well as the comparative examples of Israel and South Africa, indicates that the self-regulation that a successful anti-defection regime demands is difficult to achieve. While some scholars have viewed attempts to stem fragmentation as a solution for limiting political polarization, this Article posits the opposite: sharpening polarization in certain contexts could actually tame the excesses of fragmentation. We conclude by suggesting that efforts to de-politicize parliamentary politics are misguided. Indeed, the attempts at regulating defections reflect, in the ultimate analysis, a certain kind of dissatisfaction with representative government.

Image by Murthy SN from Pixabay

About the Speaker

Image of Associate Professor Madhav Khosla
Madhav Khosla is an Associate Professor of Law at Columbia University. He is interested in the nature and form of constitutions, especially from a comparative and theoretical perspective. His books include India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy (Harvard University Press 2020), which was an Economist Best Book of 2020 and co-winner of the Order of the Coif Book Award 2021, The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution (ed. with Sujit Choudhry and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Oxford University Press 2016), and Unstable Constitutionalism: Law and Politics in South Asia (ed. with Mark Tushnet, Cambridge University Press 2015).  Khosla’s writings have been published in journals such as the American Journal of Comparative Law, Harvard Law Review, and the International Journal of Constitutional Law, as well as popular forums like the Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, New York Times, and Time.  Before joining Columbia Law School, he was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.
About the Commentators

Image of Dr Ewan Smith
Dr Ewan Smith joined UCL Laws as Associate Professor of Public Law in 2022. Prior to that he was a Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, the Shaw Foundation Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, and an Early Career Fellow at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights. Ewan read law at Oxford, at the University of Paris and at Harvard Law School. He has previously worked at Peking, Tsinghua and Renmin Universities in China and at the National University of Singapore. He is admitted to practice in New York, where he worked for Debevoise and Plimpton LLP. Between 2005 and 2015, he worked for the Foreign Office. He advises governments and other organisations.
About the Group

The UCL Public Law Group is a community of scholars working in the field of public law, broadly understood. Our aim is to provide a supportive forum for the discussion and development of theoretical and doctrinal questions in constitutional theory, comparative constitutional law, human rights, judicial review, legal and political theory, and more. Read more about the group and its work.

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