The Financial Express
New Delhi

Given how, according to data from the Association for Democratic Reforms, 34% of the sitting Lok Sabha MPs and 31% of all MLAs have criminal cases against them, cleaning up Indian politics is critical. In this context, the Supreme Court’s ruling last year which disqualified convicted politicians—if the sentence was for more than two years—from retaining their seats and prevented them from fighting elections for 10 years was a landmark one. This is the ruling that ensured J Jayalalithaa had to step down from her post as chief minister after she was found guilty of having assets disproportionate to her known sources of income by the high court last fortnight. Another Supreme Court ruling, in May this year, took this further when it ruled that all cases of corruption and serious crimes against elected representatives had to be completed within a year’s time. It helps that prime minister Narendra Modi has also said that he will ensure a panel examines all pending cases against MPs.

In all this, the Supreme Court’s 1993 verdict in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bribery case stood out like a sore thumb. While it was proven JMM MPs had taken a bribe to vote in favour of the Narasimha Rao government in 1993, the Court ruled that the behaviour of MPs in Parliament—how they voted, essentially—was beyond its purview. Since the MPs who took the bribe but still didn’t vote were not given this immunity, this presented an oddity in that it legitimised MPs/MLAs taking bribes to vote a certain way in their respective houses. Ironically, in a case involving JMM MP Shibu Soren’s daughter-in-law—Soren was accused in the JMM case but got immunity under Article 105(2)—the same argument was invoked. Sita Soren argued she be let off in a cash-for-votes charge given the SC’s earlier ruling. Sita Soren was accused of taking a bribe and voting in favour of an MLA who wanted to get elected to the Rajya Sabha, though the Jharkhand High Court rejected her plea—using the same JMM judgment—arguing she was not covered by Article 105(2) since, while she had taken a bribe, she had not actually voted for the MLA. Whatever be the final finding on the facts of whether or not Sita Soren is eligible for immunity as per the JMM judgment, since the SC has now agreed that the JMM bribery judgment be relooked by a larger bench,perhaps the SC will finally rectify this unfortunate judgment.

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