Above: Members of the All-India Anglo Indian Association, Jabalpur branch, at a meeting/Photo: cherylltucker.wordpress.com
By choosing to sit on a government recommendation for a long time, Governor Anandiben Patel may be signalling that the state assembly has seen its last Anglo-Indian member
By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal
For the first time since its formation in 1956, the Madhya Pradesh Assembly might not see a nominated Anglo- Indian member. Since December last year, Governor Anandiben Patel has been sitting on Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s recommendation to nominate the Jabalpur-based Anglo-Indian member, Jennifer Messias.
According to Raj Bhawan sources, the governor wants to satisfy herself on three counts before taking a final decision on the chief minister’s recommendation. One, whether it is justifiable to nominate an Anglo-Indian in the light of the 95th constitutional amendment in 2009 which dictates that as per Article 334, the reservations for Anglo-Indians in state assemblies “shall cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of this Constitution”. The expiry is scheduled in 2020. Second, whether Anglo-Indians have ceased to exist in Madhya Pradesh. This doubt is based on the report of the Registrar General under the Union home ministry of the 2011 census which states that no Anglo-Indian family lives in Madhya Pradesh. Third, whether the recommended member, Messias, is suitable for nomination in view of the objections raised by her own community about her conduct and antecedents.
These considerations did not arise in the past primarily because clear electoral verdicts to the ruling party ensured that the nomination of an Anglo-Indian member in the state assembly remained a mere ritual and did not alter the balance of power in the House. However, the fractured mandate in the last assembly election has made every vote in the House significant.
Like other elected legislators, nominated MLAs can vote in the assembly when a no-confidence motion is moved. However, they do not enjoy the right to participate in the presidential elections.
The chief minister recommended Messias as she was the president of the Jabalpur branch of the All-India Anglo Indian Association. She, however, lost the election of the Association that was held in 2015. And in 2017, she was expelled as a member.
Pointing out this fact in his letter to the governor in January, the association’s new president, Philip Palmer, wrote: “Jennifer was expelled from the Jabalpur branch for her actions that caused great harm to the community after she lost the election for the president’s post.” Palmer cautioned in the letter that “the community will be greatly disheartened and very upset if such a person is given the responsibility of representing it. It will be highly unacceptable”.
Messias said in her defence that she was the president for nearly 20 years and had an impeccable reputation. She accused her opponents within the community of spreading canard against her. Messias was a lecturer at St Joseph’s Convent, Jabalpur, for nearly four decades. Her father, HD Vyse, a former Army major, represented the community in the assembly from 1985 to 1990 when the Congress was in power.
The chief minister’s recommendation has run into a legal hurdle too. Dr PG Najpande of the Nagrik Upbhokta Margdarshak Manch, a Jabalpur-based organisation, has moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court, seeking a stay on the nomination on the ground that reservation for the Anglo-Indian community is ending in 2020 as per the Constitution. Notices have been issued to the centre and the state government by the Court on his petition.
Nomination for the Anglo-Indian member in parliament and state assemblies is clearly outlined. Article 331 says: “The President may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo Indian community is not adequately represented in the House of the People, nominate not more than two members of that community to the House of the People (Lok Sabha).”
Likewise, Article 333 says: “The Governor of a State may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo Indian community needs representation in the Legislative Assembly of the State and is not adequately represented therein, nominate one member of that community to the Assembly.”
These provisions, as with reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, were intended to be phased out 10 years from the date of implementation of the Constitution, but regular amendments extended all of them in 10-year increments. However, in 2009, a constitutional amendment came into effect, abolishing the practice of nominating Anglo-Indians to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The 95th Amendment incorporated Article 334 which says reservations “shall cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of this Constitution.”
In the context of Madhya Pradesh, a peculiar situation has arisen as the 2011 census report says no Anglo- Indian family is left in the state. This was disclosed by the office of the Registrar General to a Right to Information (RTI) activist in March 2018. Satna-based RTI activist Rajeev Khare had sought state-wide information about the number of Anglo-Indian families living there.
The information raised a question mark over the tenability of the then nominated Anglo-Indian member, Loren B Lobo. She was nominated in 2004 when the BJP had come to power in the state. Jabalpur-based Lobo continued to be nominated a member till December 2018.
Before her, June Choudhary, another Jabalpur-based Anglo-Indian social activist, represented the community in the assembly for 10 years in the Digvijaya Singh regime. Her husband, Anup Choudhary, was advocate general in the state.
Last year, Karnataka also faced a legal issue over nomination of an Anglo-Indian member. Before the government formation in May 2018, the Congress-JD(S) combine had moved the Supreme Court against the decision of Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala to nominate an Anglo-Indian member to the assembly, saying it should not be done till the floor test in the House.
The petitioners demanded that the nomination of Anglo-Indian Vinisha Nero be set aside till the BJP’s chief ministerial claimant, BS Yeddyurappa, underwent a floor test in the House to prove his majority. The Supreme Court stayed the petition.
All-India Anglo Indian Association President-in-Chief Barry O’Brien wrote to Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala, asking him to not allow the seat to be politicised and used for political gain.
In March 2005 in Jharkhand, just before a floor test, Shibu Soren had nominated an Anglo-Indian MLA. But BJP leader Arjun Munda petitioned the apex court, which told the governor not to accept the nomination until the vote. Soren lost. Munda proved his majority and then nominated another person to the Anglo-Indian seat.
In Uttarakhand in 2012, also in a hung assembly, the Congress nominated an Anglo-Indian MLA before it proved its majority (which it did, with support from Independents and another party), which led to protests from the BJP.
With Governor Patel choosing to sit on the file for an unusually long time, there are strong indications that the Madhya Pradesh Assembly may have already seen its last Anglo-Indian member.