First Post Politics
New Delhi

New Delhi: Merely months after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s headline-grabbing rejection of the ‘nonsense’ ordinance, it is back to business as usual at the Congress party headquarters. The list of candidates for the Delhi assembly polls reveals that the withdrawal of the controversial ordinance overturning the Supreme Court order keeping criminals out of politics has made little difference. The list of 56 candidates released yesterday includes names of three sitting MLAs against whom serious criminal charges are pending. This comes on the heels of the Rajasthan list, which saw the Sonia Gandhi-led central election committee handing out tickets to family members of jailed leaders including Mahipal Maderna who is an accused in the Bhanwari Devi murder case. Congress has fielded tainted candidates in the Delhi polls. PTI. The most controversial of the three candidates on the Delhi list is Okhla MLA Asif Mohd Khan who has 16 criminal cases pending against him. A recent report by the Association of Democratic Rights (ADR) analysing criminal details of sitting MLAs in the Delhi Assembly put Khan on top the list of six MLAs facing serious criminal cases. Charges against Khan include trafficking, murder, promoting enmity between communities and committing prejudicial actions to the maintenance of harmony. More tellingly, Khan joined the Congress party in August and was welcomed with open arms for his formidable ‘winnability’ quotient. His victory in Okhla in the September 2009 by-election, which he contested from an RJD ticket, ended a 15-year Congress reign. He defeated his closest rival by more than 5000 votes. Dikshit, however, defended her choice of Khan telling Times of India that he was chosen only after “he had got a report from the Delhi Police clearing his name.” Two other Congress MLAs, who figure on ADR’s list of six, are Badli’s Devender Yadav (against whom charges include theft and criminal intimidation) and Kasturba Nagar’s Neeraj Basoya, an advocate by profession, who is accused of using dangerous weapons to cause hurt, criminal intimidation and wrongful restraint. Was there any point at all then to the fiasco over the ordinance if parties are as eager as ever to hand out tickets to tainted MLAs? The impact of the withdrawal of the ordinance, says ADR co-founder Jagdeep Chhokar, will be felt when such candidates if elected are convicted during the life of the assembly. “They will be then disqualified from the Assembly.” Speaking about the double standards of political parties that say one thing and do the exact opposite, Chhokar says, “Winnability is not the only thing. Elections are supposed to be free and fair. And if you have candidates who have serious criminal cases against them it is obviously not a free and fair election.” The mounting public pressure to de-criminalise politics may explain why Law Minister Kapil Sibal, who not so long ago defended the controversial ordinance, is now speaking of introducing a bill in the Winter Session to keep candidates who have been chargesheeted from contesting elections. There are also rumours of opposition from within the Congress party to handing out tickets to candidates facing serious criminal charges. “Parties are beginning to engage with the issue because they are being forced to engage with it. It only tells us that they will have to be forced more. They are not going to listen to logic or rationale or good sense,” says Chhokar. “The Law Minister is now saying that candidates with serious criminal charges will not be allowed to contest. That is a reform that has been on the anvil for the last twenty years. But they haven’t done anything about it. I hope more and more people will use NOTA (none of the above) option… [But] this kind of reform does not happen in one day.”

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