Millennium Post

The polling for the General Elections has already concluded, and all eyes are now on the results that are to be declared tomorrow. The level of anticipation and curiosity is running high among political analysts and people, as to which alliance — INDIA or NDA — will govern the country over the next five years, and who will be the next prime minister. Amid this heightened political scenario, what gets conveniently pushed beyond the spotlight is the consideration of who will represent the people of India, from respective constituencies, in the Lok Sabha. This skipping has serious fallouts as India treads on the path of representative democracy. Ideally, the moral-ethical fitness of people’s representatives should be given utmost priority. Before the results are out, people have to be curious about the suitability (which is different from eligibility) of the representatives who will represent them in the Lower House of the Parliament.

The trend, thus far, has not been very encouraging. A couple of months ago, before the onset of the polling for the General Elections, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) came out with a disturbing report, though there was hardly any new aspect in it. According to the report, a staggering 44 per cent of the sitting MPs have self-declared criminal cases against them. This translates to 225 out of the 514 analysed MPs, with 29 per cent facing serious charges such as murder, attempts to murder, promoting communal disharmony, kidnapping, and crimes against women. These revelations, based on self-sworn affidavits, paint a very discouraging picture of the current state of affairs.

Indeed, the right to contest elections is an essential statutory right. As per existing legal parameters, a person facing criminal case cannot be debarred from contesting elections. Thus, allowing a person facing criminal charges, even the ‘serious’ ones, to contest elections is not contrary to law. However, considering that law is a dynamic entity, the need for modifications in law becomes pertinent if existing provisions fail to address certain malaise that has developed over decades. It may be pertinent to mention here that Section 8 of the Representation of People Act provides for disqualification of electoral candidates once they are convicted of criminal charges, but not of the candidates undergoing trials. This line of distinction was deliberately retained by the Constitution makers to ensure that no person misses out on the important opportunity to contest election. In the end, in legal parlance, a person who is not convicted is an ‘innocent’ person. Sadly, this philosophy continues to be misused as a loophole for allowing a massive proportion of likely criminals to enter the fray. Over the last two decades, the Supreme Court of India has passed several judgements aimed at keeping ‘criminals’ out of the elections. But the aim has not materialised on the ground. On the contrary, the number of candidates facing criminal cases is only swelling. A few years back, a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court left it to the Parliament to disqualify such candidates, and asked it to enact a relevant law in this regard, while also directing the Election Commission to widely publicise candidates’ criminal antecedents.

What then explains the inaction of the Parliament on this front? Certainly, the perception and reality of money & muscle power ruling the roost in Indian politics remains intact. To some degree or the other, almost all the parties tend to feature their ‘bahubalis’ in the election race. They are so deeply entangled in the politics of the country that it has become tough (or at least ‘counter-productive’) for the parties to dismember them. It must be put on record here that ADR has also highlighted the fact that leading national parties of the country have the highest number of billionaires, complementing muscle with money. It would be ironic if those notorious for taking the law into their hands are implanted in the supreme law-making institution of the nation. Even the simplest of minds would agree — the cat won’t guard the milk.

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