New Delhi

Can you forget for the next few minutes, or as long as you read this article, which political party you support? Because it's not about one party and against another. And if you choose to see the facts and the incident presented here through that prism, you will miss the trees as much as the woods itself. Like always, my argument will be lost again to a cacophonous tribe closed to self-analysis that we have chosen to become as a country.

It started out innocuously in Patna on Tuesday. A suspicious-looking man clutching a leather bag tightly was detained by policemen near a railway station. The examination of his bag revealed a bounty: Rs.1.14 crore in cash, 600 US dollars, two gold chains, a pair of gold earrings, a gold locket, three gold rings, 14 silver coins and seven luxury watches.

The thief, identified as Dinesh Kumar, told police that he had stolen all of it from the Boring Road residence of BJP MP Giriraj Singh. Remember Singh? The man was in the news a few months ago for saying that those opposed to Narendra Modi should go to Pakistan since they had no place left in India.

The police were baffled. Because, according to a report in The Indian Express, the MP had mentioned filed an FIR a day earlier saying only Rs.50,000 cash and some valuables were stolen from his house.

The MP was incommunicado and when he surfaced, he told reporters that the money belonged to a cousin. When the newspaper confronted Bihar BJP chief Mangal Pandey, he advised the reporter to trust Singh and not a common thief.

It sounds like a fair enough proposition.

But let's pause here and take a polygraph-like test. And for that, forget the MP's association with the BJP for a while. He could be from any party. Congress's or even an Independent. Now revisit the incident and answer this: Who do you trust more, the thief or the MP?

The answer, I presume, will be an easy one but not without a difficult and agonising prelude.

The loss of public trust that the political class suffers today has a long story to it, which is often lost in the rhetoric dominated by development and other tall claims.

While spins are often convenient, the truth has all along remained unpleasant: the imperious presence of people with chequered pasts in the temple of our democracy.

According to statistics with the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analysed the election affidavits filed with the Election Commission, 34 per cent of the MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha face criminal charges. The percentage in 2009 and 2004 stood at 30 and 24, respectively.

A party-wise contribution to this tally is also available but let's leave that out, to make this debate apolitical.

Tainted legislators have become an accepted norm in Indian politics. No party minds it any more. Being in power makes it convenient for many of them to subvert laws and be in office longer, if not ever.

Exactly a day less than a year ago, the Supreme Court had, on July 10, 2013, ruled that any Member of Parliament, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) or Member of a Legislative Council (MLC) who is convicted of a crime with more than a two year sentence, will be disqualified as an elected representative on the date of conviction. The bench of Justice AK Patnaik and Justice SJ Mukhopadhyaya which pronounced the landmark verdict also declared Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which allowed elected representatives three months to appeal their conviction, as unconstitutional.

So how many disqualifications we have had since in a House with around one-third of its strength coming from tainted legislators? Just three (Rasheed Masood of Congress and Lalu Yadav and Jagdish Sharma of RJD).

The snail's pace even infuriated the apex court.

In an order passed on March 10, 2014, the court ruled, "Where sitting MPs and MLAs are facing corruption cases and other serious offences (which involve a punishment of more than two years on conviction), the trial will be completed expeditiously on a day-to-day basis and in no instance later than one year from the date of framing of charges."

Let's hope we have a clean House and clean political system in a few years from now and we can naturally repose our trust in our MPs. A common thief anyway is a common thief.

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