Whip of a Party- The Enforcer of a Political Party in India

Updated November 10, 2022

The Whip of a party is responsible for ensuring consensus among members of a political party when it comes to voting or attendance. Regardless of opinion differences and divergence of views, all the elected members of a political party have to work in cohesion. Their votes shouldn’t split on a certain bill or policy matter else, the identity and ideology of the political party stand chances of getting diluted. Practically, to keep all members united when it comes voting for or against something was never possible without a formal arrangement in place and this is where the appointment of a Whip is necessitated. Actions of a whip translate into whipping which means summoning failure of which could lead to punishment. So, whip as a subject and a verb both has to be understood in their earnest sense.

Who is Whip of a Political Party- What Does a Whip Do?

An official of a political party whose task is to ensure party discipline in a legislature is a whip. Ensuring discipline means members of the party would vote according to the policy of the party rather than their own individual ideology or according to the will of their donors or constituents. Whips are the “enforcers” of the party. Their only priority is to ensure cohesion in their fellow political party legislators while attending voting sessions. Cohesion in party legislators means every member would vote according to their party’s official policy. One who votes according to their own individual ideology or against party policy may effectively be expelled from the party.

The whip is a term taken from the “whipper-in”. It is one who tries to creates cohesion in hounds during a hunt so that no one would wander away from a hunting pack. Additionally, the term “whip” may mean the voting instructions issued to legislators, or the status of a certain legislator in their party’s parliamentary grouping.

Who appoints the whip of a Party- Any Constitutional Provision?

Every major political party appoints a whip who is responsible for the party’s discipline and behaviour on the floor of the house. Parties appoint a senior member from among their House contingents to issue whips — this member is called a Chief Whip, and he/she is assisted by additional Whips.  There is no official provision in the Constitution for the post of a Whip but this is being followed in India and many countries out of tradition and perceived significance.

What does the issuance of the whip in India mean?

To run a parliamentary form of government, officials are drawn from different political parties to create sync in the internal organization of parties inside the Legislature. The term “Whips” is derived from the term ‘Whipper-in’ who ensures the cohesion of hounds during hunting. The term ‘Whipper-in’ was originally used in Parliament as in the hunting field for a Member who discharged this duty for his party, but, with the passage of time, it reduced to ‘Whip’. In this sense, the Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘Whip’ as a member of a particular party in Parliament whose duty is to secure the attendance of members of that party on the occasion of an important division. Later, the term was applied to the call or appeal made by such a person, and is defined by the dictionary as “the written appeal issued by a Parliament ‘Whip’ to summon the members of his party”. The efficient and smooth working of the parliamentary machine depends, to a very large extent, upon the office of the Whip. The Whips are responsible for carrying on, efficiently and smoothly, the organization of the parties inside the Legislatures. The Whips have to keep a vigilant eye on the proceedings of the House and have to be ready to meet any emergency in the House.

The Consequences of a whip disobeyed/defied

A legislator may face disqualification proceedings if she/he disobeys the whip of the party.  The penalty for defying a whip varies from country to country. In the UK, MPs can lose membership of the party, but can keep their House seats as Independents; in India, rebelling against a three-line whip can put a lawmaker’s membership of the House at risk. The anti-defection law allows the Speaker/Chairperson to disqualify such a member; the only exception is when more than a third of legislators to vote against a directive, effectively splitting the party. Disqualification is decided by the Speaker of the house.

Limitations of the whip- Where the Whip in India Doesn’t Apply?

There are some cases such as Presidential elections where whips cannot direct a Member of Parliament (MP) or Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) to vote in a particular fashion.

How many Types of Whips Could be Issued?

There are three types of whips or instructions issued by the party. The importance of a whip can be inferred from the number of times an order is underlined. A one-line whip underlined once, is usually issued to inform party members of a vote, and allows them to abstain in case they decide not to follow the party line. A two-line whip directs them to be present during the vote. A three-line whip is the strongest, employed on important occasions such as the second reading of a Bill or a no-confidence motion, and places an obligation on members to toe the party line.

Whip in India- The Precedence

There are two recent incidences where the importance of Whip could be underlined.

(1) Rajasthan Assembly Issue That Started off by Sachin Pilot, July 2020

In July 2020 the 19 dissident Congress MLAs including Sachin Pilot was whipped by the party chief whip to attend the congress committee meeting but they defied. Subsequently, Notice under anti-defection law was also served to them by Speaker. In response, all the dissident MLAs approached the Rajasthan High Court to intervene on the issue of disqualification. The Rajasthan High Court passed an order to Speaker to defer the action on disqualification and directed the speaker to maintain the status quo on the issue.

This intervention of HC in the matter of premature intervention was challenged by the Speaker and Party’s chief whip in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was encroachment by the High Court in the field exclusively reserved for the Speaker.

Matter of the fact is that under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) a political party has a constitutional right to issue a whip to its legislators.

Para 2(1)(a) of Tenth Schedule marks the following: A member of a House belonging to any political party shall be disqualified for being a member of the House if he has voluntarily given up his membership of such political party

While Para 2(1)(b) of Tenth Schedule provides that a member of a House belonging to any political party shall be disqualified for being a member of the House if he votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs.

As the political situation evolved in the Rajasthan Assembly in July 2020 was related to ‘Motion of Confidence’ where it was speculated that incumbent Gehlot govt had reduced to Minority on the controversial announcement of Sachin Pilot himself the landmark judgement of hon’ble Supreme Court in the Kihoto Holohan vs Zachillhu case, 1992 was also relied upon. In the said case constitutional bench of hon’ble Supreme Court had held categorically that the application of the Tenth Schedule is limited to a vote on “motion of confidence” or “no-confidence” in the government or where the motion under consideration relates to a matter which was an integral policy and programme of the political party.

The speaker and party whip in their plea to Hon’ble Supreme Court had contended that the Apex Court as the Sentinel of Constitution should ensure the restoration of the Principle of Separation of Powers.

(2) Karnataka Assembly Issue- Started off by 15 MLAs in Govt. July 2019

In July 2019, a political crisis of unstable government had arisen after tendering resignations of 15 MLAs from the coalition govt. These dissident MLAs were apprehended to play some govt. toppling game by being in interaction with BJP. Before the party could issue a whip or speaker could issue disqualification notice or consider resignations, the Supreme court on hearing the plea of rebel MLAs ruled that the rebel MLAs could not be compelled to attend the floor test proceedings if it happens. However, the Supreme Court also held that it could not pressurize Speaker to decide the resignations in haste as speaker usually have 3 months’ time to decide such cases.

In the meantime, there was a constitutional obligation mounted from Governor to set the deadline for floor Test considering the insistence of opposition on conducting floor test. The MLAs in favour of govt kept wooing the dissident MLAs to retract the resignations but they didn’t. The floor test was held and the Kumaraswami Govt. lost the floor test (confidence motion).   In such a scenario it was but natural for the Congress party to cry the ruling of Supreme Court as problematic because it basically had stopped the party to whip its dissident MLAs.

Congress communication chief Randeep Surjewala, who is also a lawyer, had marked that the top court’s order took away the Congress’s power to issue whip to the rebel MLAs under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.

He termed the SC order as highly problematic since neither the Congress nor the party leader in the Assembly was parties to the case being heard before the Supreme Court. How can the Congress then be bound by a decision that it wasn’t a party to?

Surjewala contended as how could the judiciary impose its own terms and conditions on how a floor test should be conducted and consequently govern proceedings of the legislature.

His further contention was that the Constitutionally guaranteed separation of powers between different organs of the State seemed to have been breached.

The Supreme court ruling over the Karnataka crisis is justified on the ground that it protected the freedom of the rebel MLAs to either take part in the assembly proceedings or opt-out, but alternatively, it is also viewed as allowing these MLAs free hand to comply with or defy the whip issued by their parties.

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