Millennium Post

Cleanse politics, speed up justice

The Supreme Court’s order stipulating that MPs and MLAs will be disqualified the moment they are convicted in a criminal case has been wholeheartedly welcomed by those who want to clean up the polity of criminal elements. The apex court’s verdict that there is no reason why elected representatives should be protected from disqualification pending appeal is a landmark ruling that could, in future, cleanse India’s politics of legislators with criminal record. The offences for which a legislator can be convicted are specified in the Representative of the People Act.

The apex court came with yet another order banning persons lodged behind the bars from contesting election to legislative bodies, its second consecutive verdict in the direction of cleansing the nation’s politics of people with criminal background. If Supreme Court’s twin orders are implemented in right earnest, political parties will think twice before giving tickets to those accused of criminal acts, except where they genuinely believe that the charges are politically motivated. The court’s order will not have full impact till the judicial system ensures speedy trail. It is well known that cases take decades to settle and politicians know that. They take full advantage of the slow judicial process. That being so, the deterrent effect of the apex court’s verdict is bound to be substantially reduced. Apprehending that criminal-politicians will not allow their order to be implemented, the two-member bench of Justices – A K Patnaik and S J Mukhopadhyay – exempted those who had already been convicted and gone in appeal.This gesture, notwithstanding, the criminal politicians have risen up in arms against the order and will soon challenge it, taking advantage of many lacunae in the Supreme Court verdict.

Some of the prominent politicians who have been convicted and gone to court in appeal are Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is an accused in many of over 60 cases filed in the fodder scam. Kanimozhi too stands convicted for allegedly colluding with A Raja to bring Rs 200 crores from 2G licences into Kalaignar TV. Trail against Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets is in advanced stage. The CBI has also filed chargesheet against Suresh Kalmadi alleging irregularities in the award of contract to Swiss Timing Ltd in Commonwealth games. A mindboggling number of MPS and MLAs have been elected to Parliament and state legislatures have criminal background. A total of 1,460 out of 4,806 have declared criminal cases against them. As many as 162 of the 543 Lok Sabha members have declared criminal cases against them and 1,358 out of 4,032 sitting MLAs from all state assemblies have declared criminal cases against themselves.

Clearly deficiencies in our electoral laws permit those with criminal antecedents to literally get away with murder and stay put in Parliament and state assemblies with relative ease. This has in substantial measure led to the debasement of our political culture and the fabrication of the criminal – political nexus, and is not a little responsible for the degradation of our governance. Legal experts say that a verdict by two-member bench on such an important matter as disqualification of MPs and MLAs is not legally and constitutionally sustainable. The government is, therefore, considering filing a review petition, seeking referral of the matter to a five-member Constitution bench.

There are chances the provision to disqualify a convicted person may be used by rivals to settle political vendetta. The questions posed are on these lines: Should a person convicted of taking part in a protest in which he or she is arrested be treated in the same manner as a person convicted of a serious crime like extortion or murder? Could this ruling be used to settle political scores by pinning down an opponent by filing cases against him or her? There are many unresolved issues, which will have to be clarified in due course.

Eminent jurist and former attorney general, Soli Sorabji, described the judgment as landmark and said it is a step in right direction for partially ridding our polity of the pervasive criminality that has infected it. Democracy is a basic feature of the Constitution. The entry of people with colourful criminal antecedents in Parliament or state legislatures is staggering and this menace has to be brought to s screeching halt. He pointed out that they touch 30 per cent of the members in the Lok Sabha and 31 percent of members in state legislatures. Political leaders are more concerned over verdict barring jailed persons from contesting. They are deeply concerned and outraged at the Supreme Court’s verdict that any person in custody – whether convicted or not – could not contest election. Both the major parties – the Congress and the BJP officially refrained from making any comment but privately expressed concern. The CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat felt that the verdict was ‘out of order’, and liable to be misused on large scale. His concern is share by a wider political class. He said his party would a considered view on both the judgments before offering a formal and detailed view.

CPI leader, D Raja, said the verdict raised very serious and political problems. In a multi-party system, political parties have their prejudices. A government can, out of political vendetta, file charges against a rival and so on. Also politicians participate in protest agitations, and might be put in custody. Going by apex court ruling, they would be debarred from contesting elections. Will this be justified?

Irrespective of pros and cons of Supreme Court ruling, a renewed debate has been raised on getting rid of criminals in politics and it should be welcomed. The political parties should shed their prejudices, likes and dislikes, and evolve a consensus on the vital question of throwing out criminals from Parliament and state legislatures. Some lacuna and shortcoming may still remain but they will have to put up with it and boldly face the consequences. IPA

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