The Hindu: Business Line
B. S. Raghavan

There has been a flurry of reports following the recent elections to five State Assemblies throwing lurid light on the criminal traits and mountainous assets of people's representatives.

The unconscionably high percentages of persons involved in heinous criminal offences who had been put up as candidates by various political parties and elected as MLAs are beyond belief.

And the number of law-breakers becoming law-makers at the Centre and the States shows no signs of abating.

Actually, in the recent Assembly elections, the percentage of MLAs with criminal antecedents has risen from 27 to 35 per cent.

According to an analysis made by the National Election Watch of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), a total of 189 (47 per cent) new MLAs in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly have criminal cases pending against them, compared with 140 (34 per cent) in the 2007 Assembly.

Goa, Punjab and Uttarakhand have also increased the tally of the tainted. Only Manipur provides refreshing contrast with not a single candidate having a criminal past, going by the affidavits filed.

Phenomenal growth in assets

Politics is also proving to be exponentially lucrative. Of the 543 members of the Lok Sabha and 250 of the Rajya Sabha, 315 and 100, respectively, are crorepatis.

The recent elections disclose some startling details: MLAs with assets worth crores number 37 (as against 22 in 2007 election) out of 40 in Goa, 16 (as against one in 2007) out of 60 in Manipur, 101 (as against 77 in the 2007 election) out of 117 in Punjab, 32 (compared with 12 in 2007) out of 70 in Uttarakhand and 271 (as against a mere 124 in 2007 election) out of 403 in Uttar Pradesh.

What is more important and revealing than just the quantum of assets is the phenomenal growth in assets between 2007 and 2012 in respect of sitting MLAs who have recontested elections.

The ADR has computed the average rate of growth in the five-year period as 66 per cent (or Rs 3.43 crore) in Punjab, 177 per cent (or Rs 1.47 crore) in Uttarakhand, 171 per cent (or Rs 4.58 crore) in Goa and 213 per cent (or Rs 2.09 crore) in Uttar Pradesh, only Manipur indicating a modest growth of Rs 98.43 lakh for re-elected sitting MLAs.

The people of India owe a debt of gratitude to the Supreme Court which, in 2002, upheld their right to know the character and antecedents of those seeking to represent them as “fundamental and basic for the survival of democracy”.

By a landmark judgment, it forced the Government to incorporate a provision in the Representation of the People Act requiring the candidates to file affidavits, along with their nominations, giving full details about their educational qualifications, the movable and immovable assets of themselves and their close relations, liabilities/overdues to public financial institutions and government dues, and cases pending against them of which cognisance has been taken by courts of law.

The idea was that the “little man” (as the Supreme Court described the voter) should make an informed choice.

The idea, no doubt, also was that the details so gathered were not just for purposes of titillation and gossip.

They would also serve as the basis for inquiries by tax authorities and investigative and enforcement agencies into the acquisition of any illegitimate or disproportionate assets and initiate action against those who cannot account for them.

Elaborate charade

A demonstrably prompt and effective action on the above lines could bring down the number of persons of unsavoury background standing for elections in the future.

Despite surfing all the relevant web sites to do with the subject, I have not seen any reference to any case resulting from such inquiries.

Nor is any information available of donations received by political parties which they have mandatorily to declare under the Representation of the People Act.

The Chief Election Commissioner, Dr S.Y.Quraishi, himself has admitted that most political parties do not submit their annual report on donations. But there is no way the Election Commission can take action against them as there is no penalty provided in the law.

In view of these serious lapses and lacunae, one wonders what the elaborate charade of affidavits and declarations is in aid of.

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