What's New :

Enact strong laws to cleanse politics, says Supreme Court

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    10th Oct, 2018

Supreme Court in its recent judgement on decriminalisation of politics underlined that

  • Parliament should make a strong law to bar people with criminal background to contest elections.
  • Since power of legislation lies with the parliament as per the constitution, Judiciary can’t disqualify candidates facing trial for heinous crimes from contesting elections,
  • Political parties should share the criminal record of their candidates, if any in the open so that citizens can take an informed decision while exercising their right to vote.

Issue

Context:

Supreme Court in its recent judgement on decriminalisation of politics underlined that

  • Parliament should make a strong law to bar people with criminal background to contest elections.
  • Since power of legislation lies with the parliament as per the constitution, Judiciary can’t disqualify candidates facing trial for heinous crimes from contesting elections,
  • Political parties should share the criminal record of their candidates, if any in the open so that citizens can take an informed decision while exercising their right to vote.

Background:

  • Decriminalisation of politics aims at restraining the criminals entering the politics and contesting elections. It envisages a political class free from any criminal background. It is one of the main agendas of the electoral reforms in the country. According to Deepak Misra, former Chief Justice of India, “Criminalisation politics and corruption, especially at the entry level of elections, has become a national and economic terror. It is a disease which is self-destructive and becoming immune to antibiotics”.

  • The data from Association of Democratic Reforms, an NGO has shown that there is a steady rise of MPs and MLAs with criminal background since last two decades.
  • According to a recent report of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a total of 1,580 MPs and MLAs, i.e, approximately 33 per cent of the legislators in Parliament and state assemblies have declared criminal cases against them.
  • Of the MPs and MLAs having criminal cases registered against them, 48 were booked for crimes against women. Three of these legislators are MPs while 45 are MLAs.

In the past, series of petitions were filed in Supreme Court to address the problem of rising numbers of MPs and MLAs with criminal background in Indian politics.

  • In Union of India v/s Association of Democratic Reforms Case (2002), Supreme Court made it mandatory for candidates to submit an affidavit with full disclosure of criminal cases, if any, and details of their asset and income.
  • In 2003, Supreme Court allowed to introduce None of the Above(NOTA) option, which gave citizens choice to not give vote to any candidate.
  • In Lily Thomas v/s Union of India and others, Supreme Court ruled that a sitting MP and MLA convicted of a jail term of two years or more would lose their seat in legislature immediately.
  • The Supreme Court favoured the creation of special courts for expediting criminal cases involving politicians. Recently, 12 courts have been set up by the government for the speedy trial of pending criminal cases against MPSs and MLAs.

Existing laws for decriminalising politics:

  • Besides above mentioned Supreme Court directives, there are statutory provisions for preventing the criminals to enter in politics. The Representation of people’s Act 1951, specifies that an individual with a jail term of more than two years cannot stand in the election for six years after the jail term has ended. It also directs that if the lower court has convicted an individual, he cannot contest unless a higher court has overturned his conviction.
  • However, the existing law doesn’t bar individuals who have criminal cases pending against them from contesting elections.
  • Given the slow process of court convictions, often delays led the easy escape of the legislators with criminal background.

Analysis

In a representative democracy like India, quality of candidates contesting elections is of immense importance. It is the representatives who make laws and remain at the apex of the governance of the country. Candidates with criminal background pose challenge to the fair and accountable system of governance at federal, state and local level. The country has seen rise in numbers of MPs and MLAs with criminal background since 1970s.

Reasons for criminalisation of Indian politics:

Criminalisation of politics derives its roots from the defects in the political system. The political system which comprises of the politicians and voters is responsible for the evil that has deepened into our society.

  • Muscle power has remained one of the most influential means for politicians to influence the attitude and conduct of sizeable sections of the electorate. Many politicians are thriving today on the basis of muscle power provided by criminals. Once the political aspect joins the criminal elements, the nexus becomes extremely dangerous.
  • It is widely accepted fact that huge election expenditure is the root cause of for corruption in India. Elections have become best means to turn black money into white.
  • Criminals are being wooed by political parties and given cabinet posts as their muscle and money power fetches crucial votes. Elections are lost with very narrow margins, so parties cynically woo every possible vote bank, including those headed by accused robbers and murderers.
  • Legal delays ensure that the politicians remain in the position as un-convictedpersons are not barred from contesting elections.

Given the existing situation both in terms of laws and overall moral and ethical grounds of politics and governance in the country, there are certain challenges to eradicate criminalisation of politics altogether.

Challenges:

  • Political parties are circumventing the rule of law to ensure electoral victory. On the other hand there is no public outcry against the fielding criminals as candidates, encourage the political parties to opt for criminals who ensure electoral victory through muscle power.
  • Corruption which is embedded in economic, political and bureaucratic system is the root cause of all these white collar crimes. India stands at the lower rungs when it comes to Corruption Index of Transparency International. It has become a big challenge for Indian democracy and governance. Criminalisation of politics is nothing but one of the symptoms of corruption.
  • Criminals are not entering politics because of some inexplicable moral lapse by candidate selection committee, but because they have huge incentive to get in.
  • Even if the political parties do not field criminals as candidates, the criminalisation of politics will not decline. The political parties will continue to seek the support the criminals for electoral malpractices, like booth capturing and rigging.
  • The existing law seems to be toothless when it comes to criminal politicians and criminalisation of politics. The long pending cases against the existing politicians seldom reach to the verdict end. Conviction rates are very low and existing norm of allowing the candidate to contest and get elected until being convicted make efforts of cleaning politics ineffective.
  • Election Commission, a constitutional body wholly entrusted to conduct free and fair elections seems to be powerless as far as entry of criminals into electoral politics is concerned. The challenge is to give full hand to this body to act independently as mandated by the constitution.
  • Lack of political will due to vested interests of all the political parties also impedes a strong legislation to counter the menace of criminal politics.
  • There is a lack of morals and ethics when it comes to politics. Politics based on caste, religion and region often leads to moral and ethical corruption and thus provides window for the criminal elements to hijack political climate of the country.
  • With recent judgement asking parliament to make strong laws for decriminalising politics, many political scientists believe that Supreme Court has waxed itself of responsibility of taking course on the measure itself. As in the past, on many occasions, it has taken corrective courses which were ideally in the domain of the Parliament. Sceptics have serious doubt that this judgement will help in cleaning politics in substantial way.

Way forward:

Criminalisation of politics is one of the many challenges that Indian democracy at large and Indian electoral system in particular is facing today. A concerted and holistic approach isneeded which includes:

  • Public Education:Creation of awareness among voters for proper utilization of franchise shouldbe given much importance. It can be done with implementation of literacycamps in right manner. A sense of security has to be developed to exercise theright to vote.
  • Right to recall: voters should have right to recall the elected representative. This would force political parties to choose good candidates with good public image.
  • Value based politics: Ethics and morality should be made torch bearer of political actions. Political parties should follow strictly the code of conduct and give preference to values based politics in preference to money and muscle based politics.
  • Do away with vote bank politics: Politics based on development rather than caste, religion or region should find credence in political class of the country.
  • Minimization of election expenditure: Expenditure of election and political parties should be reduced. The idea of partial state funding of election is a move in right direction.
  • Special courts: Cases against legislators should be heard on day to day basis. Fast track special court for speedy trails would be a move in right direction.
  • Harmonious functioning of Election Commission: To let the election commission work independently and use its powers and prerogatives without any political interference.
  • Role of media: The fourth pillar of Indian democracy has to play a proactive role in making sure that white collar crimes do not go unnoticed. Media can play an important role in disseminating information regarding contesting candidates to the general public.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Decriminalisation of Indian politics is a dream far from realisation. Discuss in the light of recent Supreme Court Judgement.

Approach:

  • Briefly write about criminalisation of Indian Politics. (50-60 words)
  • Write down the earlier efforts to decriminalise politics(60-70 words)
  • Discuss the court judgement and its implication on fight against criminalisation of politics. (60-70 words)
  • Conclude with a brief way forward (40-50 words)

X
Enquire Now