Electoral Reforms : Criminalisation of Politics

Context:

  • The Supreme Court has directed political parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their candidates and urged Parliament to bring a strong law to cleanse political parties of leaders facing trial for serious crimes.

 

Importance of Political Parties in Democracy:

  • A politician may be disqualified from being a legislator, but he may continue to hold high positions within his party, thus continuing to play an important public role which he has been deemed unfit for by the law.
  • Convicted politicians may continue to influence law-making by controlling the party and fielding proxy candidates in legislature.
  • Political parties act as a conduit through which interests and issues of the people are represented in Parliament. They play a central role in the interface between private citizens and public life.

 

Role of Legislature in Criminalisation of Politics:

  • Criminalisation of 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.
  • Parliament is obligated to act, as criminalisation in politics is a bitter manifest truth, which is a termite to the citadel of democracy.
  • Election Commission of India has its hands tied, helplessly watching as criminalisation of politics at the entry level is on the rise.
  • Rapid criminalisation of politics cannot be arrested by merely disqualifying tainted legislators but should begin by cleansing political parties.
  • The court said Parliament should frame a law that makes it obligatory for political parties to remove leaders charged with heinous and grievous crimes, such as rape, murder and kidnapping, to name only a few, and refuse ticket to offenders in both parliamentary and Assembly polls.
  • Criminals in power are nothing but a liability to this country. Their presence in power strikes at the roots of democracy.
  • The best available people, as is expected by the democratic system, should not have criminal antecedents and the voters have a right to know about their antecedents, assets and other aspects.
  • Court cannot legislate for Parliament by introducing disqualification to ban candidates facing trial for heinous crimes from contesting elections.

 

Directions

  • The court directed that candidates divulge their criminal past to the Election Commission in block letters.
  • Candidates should make a full disclosure of the criminal cases pending against them to the political parties under whose banner they intend to contest the polls.
  • The parties, in turn, should put up the complete details of their candidates on their websites for public consumption.
  • Further, both the candidate and the political party should declare the criminal antecedents of the former in widely-circulated newspapers.
  • Finally, both the candidate and the political party should give wide publicity to the criminal record of the former by airing it on TV channels, not once, but thrice after the filing of nomination papers.

 

Elections Commission

  • The Election Commission said it would examine the Supreme Court judgement and based on the findings, would issue necessary instructions for compliance by the parties concerned.

 

Significance

  • The judgement, which compels political parties to come clean about the criminal elements within their apparatus, is unique as it opens a new vista that the process of breaking crime-politics nexus extends much beyond purity of legislators and encompasses purity of political parties as well.
  • The directions to political parties to go public about the criminal cases against their candidates is a step to foster and nurture an informed citizenry. It is to protect the culture and purity in politics.
  • It ensures that ordinary voters can have an informed choice about who he or she has to vote for in a country which already feels agonised when money and muscle power become the supreme power.
  • Disclosure of antecedents makes the election a fair one and the exercise of the right of voting by the electorate also gets sanctified.

 

Background

Law Commission Reports

  • Political parties have been chiefly responsible for criminalisation of politics.
  • The Law Commission of India, in its 244th report, succinctly put it that instead of politicians having suspected links to criminal networks, as was the case earlier, it was persons with extensive criminal backgrounds who began entering politics.
  • The Law Commission said that in the 10 years since 2004, 18% of the candidates contesting either national or State elections had criminal cases against them (11,063 out of 62,847).
  • Though the Representation of the People Act disqualifies a sitting legislator or a candidate on certain grounds, there is nothing regulating the appointments to offices within the party.

1993 Mumbai bomb blasts

  • The presence of criminalisation of politics was felt in its strongest form during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts.
  • The blasts was the result of a collaboration of a diffused network of criminal gangs, police and customs officials and their political patrons and the tremors of the attacks shook the entire nation.

Vohra panel report

  • The court referred to how the N.N. Vohra Committee, which was set up following a public outcry after the blasts, submitted its report in October 1993 after its study of the problem of criminalisation of politics and the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in India.
  • The committee had concluded that agencies, including the CBI, IB, RAW, had unanimously expressed their opinion that the criminal network was virtually running a parallel government.
  • The committee report mentioned how money power was first acquired through real estate and then used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians.
  • The money power is used to develop a network of muscle power which is also used by the politicians during elections.

Other reports

  • The judgment also refers to the fact that voices within Parliament also felt the need to end the bane of criminal politics.
  • The 18th Report presented by a parliamentary committee to the Rajya Sabha in March 2007 expressed a strong feeling that politics should be cleansed of persons with established criminal background. It said criminalisation of politics is the bane of society and negation of democracy.
  • The Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms, as early as in 1990, highlighted the crippling effect of money and muscle power in elections.

 

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