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Insights into Editorial: Choice and candidacy: On crime and politics
Criminalization of politics is a vital topic to be discussed in any democratic platform. This issue is on focus every now and then. The Government and the governance system’s credibility is questioned. Sometimes the government loses its legitimacy and authenticity due to the involvement of persons with criminal backgrounds.
The frequency with which alleged or convicted criminals manage to gain public office threatens the ideals and the functioning of the Indian democracy. The entry of criminals in election politics must be restricted at any cost. If it is not checked, it will erode the system totally. The dearth of talented persons in politics may collapse the country internally as well as externally.
With the Supreme Court ruling that political parties should publish details of candidates having criminal history on website and other platforms, experts are divided on whether the judgement will deter parties from putting up such candidates in the future. While some say that the judgment will lead to elimination or deterrence of criminalisation of politics, a few others think that it is too early to say.
43% newly-elected Lok Sabha MPs have criminal record: ADR:
Nearly half of the newly-elected Lok Sabha members have criminal charges against them, a 26% increase as compared to 2014, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR). Of the 539 winning candidates analysed by the ADR, as many as 233 MPs or 43% have criminal charges. In 2014, 185 Lok Sabha members (34%) had criminal charges and 112 MPs had serious criminal cases against them. In 2009, 162 (nearly 30%) out of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs had criminal charges and 14% had serious criminal charges, it said. According to the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), in the new Lok Sabha, nearly 29% of the cases are related to rape, murder, attempt to murder or crime against women. There is an increase of 109% [in 2019] in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009.
SC said that there should be Decriminalisation of politics:
- The Supreme Court had adjudicated on the contempt petitions pertaining to the criminalisation of politics in India and the non-compliance of the directions of a Constitution Bench of Supreme Court in Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v. Union of India and Anr. (2019) with respect to decriminalisation of politics.
- Mainly the contempt petitions were filed before the Supreme Court on the grounds that its directions were not implemented in the subsequent Assembly elections and the general elections since the Election Commission of India did not amend the Election Symbols Order and the Model Code of Conduct.
- On this a point very interesting set of directions were issued by the court in exercise of Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution of India.
- As per the directions it is now mandatory for political parties to upload on their website about detailed information of the candidates which shall include pending criminal cases (including the nature of the offences, and relevant particulars such as whether charges have been framed, the concerned court, the case number etc.), along with the reasons for such selection and as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates.
- According to experts, such disclosures might not achieve intended consequence, as the electorate is well aware about the criminal antecedents of the candidates contesting elections.
Divergent views from Central Government:
- The Centre had contended that the judiciary should not venture into the legislative arena by creating a pre-condition which would adversely affect the right of the candidates to participate in polls as there was already the RP Act which deals with the issue of disqualification.
- Referring to the concept of presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty, the Centre had argued that depriving a person from contesting elections on a party ticket would amount to denial of the right to vote, which also included the right to contest.
- It had said that the courts will have to presume innocence in view of the fact that in 70 per cent cases, accused are being acquitted.
- Central government had said that Parliament has made a distinction between an accused and a convict and there has been a provision for disqualification in the Representation of Peoples Act upon conviction of a lawmaker.
- The Election Commission of India had taken a view which was apparently opposite to the Centre and said that the recommendations for decriminalising politics were made by the poll panel and the Law Commission back in 1997 and 1998, but no action was taken on them.
- It exhorted the court to issue the direction in the matter besides asking Parliament to make the suitable law.
However, it is important to recognize that Constitutional Institutions like the Election Commission (EC), the Supreme Court, the Central Information Commission, the bureaucracy, and the media contribute a lot to this work.
In some cases, Parliament and political parties have also played a role. Though the role of civil society has been significant, it needs to work with these existing democratic Institutions.
The underlining truth is, what the electorate fails to understand is that, criminal elements in politics may well represent some petty causes concerning them, but this has adversely affected the quality of policy making, and has enhanced nepotism, cronyism and corruption which has a tremendous regressive effect on national growth and development. And at times, it creates an atmosphere of intimidation that most undemocratically muzzles voices of dissent. The members of the legislature are expected and directed to represent vicariously the aspirations and concerns of the people whom they represent. Hence it is important for the legislature of a representative democracy to be a true reflection of the aspirations and dreams of the people and also to be fair, honest and accountable to the people they represent.