Topics Covered: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
Criminalization of Politics
What to study?
For Prelims: Salient features of RPA.
For Mains: Criminalisation of politics- concerns, challenges and solutions.
Context: Expressing concern about the “alarming increase” in number of persons with criminal backgrounds being elected Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies of states, the Supreme Court has passed directions to compel political parties to “explain” why such candidates are given tickets.
These directions include:
- It is mandatory for all political parties to publish all details regarding pending criminal cases against their chosen candidates, not only in local newspapers, but also on party websites and social media handles.
- Along with the details of pending cases, the parties will also have to publish “the reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates”.
- The “reasons” given for selection of the candidates have to be “with reference to the qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere ‘winnability’ at the polls”.
The judgment was passed in a contempt of court case filed against the Chief Election Commissioner of India.
- The petition claimed the ECI had failed to take any steps to ensure the implementation of a 2018 judgment of the bench, which had made it mandatory for political parties to declare and publish all criminal cases pending against their candidates.
- The petitioners argued that parties were “circumventing” the 2018 judgment by publishing the details of their candidates’ criminal background in “obscure and limited circulation newspapers” and “making the webpages on their websites difficult to access”.
What does the RPA say on this?
Currently, under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections.
Efforts by SC in this regard:
The SC has repeatedly expressed concern about the purity of legislatures.
- In 2002, it made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
- The famous order to introduce NOTA was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
- In its landmark judgment of March 2014, the SC accepted the urgent need for cleansing politics of criminalisation and directed all subordinate courts to decide on cases involving legislators within a year, or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court.
Main reasons for Criminalization:
- Vote bank.
- Lack of governance.
What is the way out?
There are three possible options.
- One, political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
- Two, the RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
- Three, fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.
Other suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics:
- Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
- The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties.
- Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
- The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
Corruption and criminalisation of politics is hitting at the roots of democracy. Therefore, Parliament must take steps urgently to curb this menace. Candidates and political parties must give wide publicity to criminal cases pending against her/him in the local media, both print and electronic, after s/he files nomination to contest elections.
Sources: the Hindu.