The Supreme Court on Thursday held that the election of a candidate, who has concealed his or her criminal antecedents during the nomination process, should be declared null and void. In its judgement, the apex court said that the concealment of criminal antecedents, especially those of a heinous nature, does deprive voters a chance to make an informed choice, thereby creating obstacles in the free exercise of electoral rights.
The judgement is related to a case against a candidate, who as elected as the president of Thekampatti panchayat in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district in 2006. The candidate’s election was challenged on the sole ground that he had filed a false declaration to the Returning Office, concealing details of the criminal cases pending against him. This judgement follows an earlier one declared by the apex court, where it ruled that any Member of Parliament, Member of Legislative Assemble or a Member of a legislative Council, who is convicted of a crime and awarded a minimum of two-year imprisonment, loses his seat with immediate effect. Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa were some of the high-profile politicians, who were forced to vacate office due to this judgment.
The judgement is a step in the right direction, although it does not do much to curtail politicians with dubious antecedents from entering the hallowed space of Parliament. According to a study by the Association of Democratic Reforms, an extraordinary 34 per cent of all sitting MPs have criminal cases pending against them, an increase of 4 per cent from 2009. Among the 186 MPs who have criminal antecedents, 112 have declared that they have serious criminal cases, including ones related to murder, attempt to murder, communal disharmony, kidnapping and violence against women, against them.
Taking one step further, the apex court declared last year that politicians with a ‘criminal background’ should not serve in government, although it stopped short of forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to eject 13 cabinet ministers facing charges including attempted murder, criminal intimidation and rape. In its ruling, the apex court said that it could not disqualify the ministers, since the Constitution allows the prime minister to pick his own cabinet members. In addition, these ministers have not been convicted yet. However, in the fight to curb the flow of criminals, Thursday’s judgement was a positive development.