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Knowing our MPs

Knowing   our MPs

It is perhaps strange that legislators of the world's largest democracy hold criminal records. More strange is how it is we who elect them in the first place. Since our political parties approve of such dubious persons as candidates, it should not be a surprise that they amass votes. It would be an injustice to simply blame the voter for being unaware. Given an eclipsing section of polarising media pervasive in our present society, it should not be surprising that people remain misinformed. People with criminal antecedents often find their way up in party cadres by hook or by crook. The fact that these political parties promote their rise and provide the platform to contest elections is the crux. Political parties hold the onus of providing decent people with the stage to contest elections and get elected in Parliament. Society is never unappreciative of candidates. Anyone can contest the election and that is one of the reasons that makes democracy special. But the way it has been practised in India only makes it necessary to place some regulations over it. Presence of people with criminal records or ongoing criminal trials is a very valid filter to segregate genuine candidates from dubious ones. The political parties should exercise caution in selecting their candidates to contest elections as they will go on to be selected as members of Parliament responsible for holding together one of the three pillars of democracy — Legislature. We most certainly should not allow persons in conflict with the law to assume seats of drafting the very law. Yet, we are guilty of doing so. 46 per cent of MPs have criminal records as per the Election Commission of India. It is not healthy for a democracy to have nearly half of its legislators have criminal antecedents to their name. We are not talking about a change of heart for the elected member, whom we are willing to empower to the seat of the legislature. As the regulator of elections, ECI and as the custodian of law, the Supreme Court have made attempts to regulate this loose end that allows criminals to take a shot at assuming high public offices. ECI has categorically made a proposition asking the political parties not to provide tickets to people having criminal antecedents to contest elections. It has been conveniently overlooked as quite evident in the current political scenario. Supreme Court in a September 2018 judgment by a Constitution Bench had directed parties to publish the pending criminal cases of their election candidates in public portal. Both ECI and SC directives were directly in the national and public interest. People deserve to know the candidates seeking votes. They are not likely to vote dubious candidates when they have the option to go for genuine ones. Informed voters are the architects of good governance. It is theirs to decide who gets to govern and whether s/he will bring development or abuse power. The 2018 judgment had also urged Parliament to enact a law to cleanse parties of people facing trial for serious crimes. It would have been prudent on Parliament's part to pay heed to the same. But would a Parliament having nearly half of its members with criminal antecedents ever pay heed to such a law that prevents their kind from sitting there? On Thursday, an SC bench led by Justices Rohinton F Nariman ordered political parties to publish criminal antecedents of their candidates in local and national newspapers and on their social media handles. It directed parties to file compliance reports with the Election Commission of India or face contempt action. Interestingly, this order comes from a contempt plea against authorities and parties not complying with SC's 2018 judgment. A court-monitored procedure of publishing criminal records by political parties would greatly serve the public interest.

MPs with criminal antecedents are not uncommon. But that is what makes the situation grim. It should be uncommon and ideally rare. It is the presence of these dubious characters in the political spectrum that not only taints its sanctity but grows to become a setback for governance and development besides the welfare of society. While people may rise to higher ranks and then abuse its power to realise their nefarious designs. Even they will be equally responsible for decaying the political fabric of our country. But criminals contesting elections is a flaw in our due process. People in conflict with law rising to the seat of a legislature and abusing its power to make laws or amend existing ones as per their personal whims is a most dangerous trend for any democracy besides being a miscarriage of justice. And, it will be the citizenry which suffers. As these candidates with criminal antecedents utilise gaps in the legislation to realise their whims, a serious threat of breakdown of public institutions looms. Supreme Court pushing for cleaning the political spectrum is simply a constitutional body preventing the country's democracy from a likely derailment. Supreme Court's whip to political parties in this regard serves very highly in public interest, as would be expected of the sentinel. A well-informed public will at least be able to exercise better decision-making. As the architect of governments, voters ought to know their leaders!

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