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Political parties in 5 states are pulling out the stops in their quest for winning candidates. Most are even overlooking criminal backgrounds of candidates. How long will criminals have a free run in elections is the question posed by many.

Why is this a cause for concern?

  • There are a total 4,442 cases pending against legislators across the country. Of this, the number of cases against sitting Members of Parliament and members of State legislatures was 2,556.
  • The cases were pending in various special courts exclusively set up to try criminal cases registered against politicians.
  • The cases against the legislators include that of corruption, money laundering, damage to public property, defamation and cheating.
  • A large number of cases were for violation of Section 188 IPCfor wilful disobedience and obstruction of orders promulgated by public servants.
  • There are 413 cases in respect of offences, which are punishable with imprisonment for life, out of which in 174 cases sitting MPs/ MLAs are accused.
  • A large number of cases were pending at the appearance stage and even non-bailable warrants (NBWs) issued by courts have not been executed.
  • Highest number of cases are pending in Uttar Pradesh.

Supreme Court rulings with respect to Criminal records in Politics:

The Supreme Court has come up with a series of landmark judgments on addressing this issue.

  • Supreme Court removed the statutory protection of convicted legislators from immediate disqualification in 2013, and in 2014, directed the completion of trials involving elected representatives within a year.
  • In 2017, it asked the Centre to frame a scheme to appoint special courts to exclusively try cases against politicians, and for political parties to publicise pending criminal cases faced by their candidates in 2018.
  • But these have not been a deterrent to legislators with dubious credentials.
  • Perhaps what would do the trick is a rule that disallows candidates against whom charges have been framed in court for serious offences, but this is something for Parliament to consider as an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • This denouement, however, is still a pie in the sky given the composition of the Lower House with a number of representatives facing serious cases.
  • Ultimately, this is a consequence of a structural problem in Indian democracy and the nature of the Indian state.

RPA’s say:

  • 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, 1951disqualifies 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.

 Main reasons for Criminalization:

  • Corruption
  • Vote bank.
  • Lack of governance.

 Way out:

  • Political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
  • The RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
  • Fast-track courtsshould decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.
  • Bring greater transparency in campaign financing.
  • TheElection Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties.
  • Electoral reforms refer to the initiatives undertaken with an objective to strengthen the electoral processes.They are necessary due to the dynamism displayed in the politics of India.
  • Bringing about reforms from time to time is necessary in order to establish India as a democratic republic as outlined in the preamble and other constitutional principles.
  • While formally, the institutions of the state are present and subject to the electoral will of the people, substantively, they are still relatively weak and lackadaisical in governance and delivery of public goods, which has allowed cynical voters to elect candidates despite their dubious credentials and for their ability to work on a patronage system.
  • While judicial pronouncements on making it difficult for criminal candidates to contest are necessary, only enhanced awareness and increased democratic participation could create the right conditions for the decriminalisation of politics.