Time to shunt out tainted Chavan
It was irony most unkind when the Congress, in March this year, decided to field the much-compromised former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan from Nanded Lok Sabha constituency, despite several allegations of corruption against him. Most notably, Chavan’s alleged involvement in Adarsh scam, a housing society in posh south Mumbai meant for widows and relatives of war martyrs, has been in the eye of the storm, earning him public disparagement, though not enough punitive measures from the authorities. Now, Chavan might be in for a real setback, with the Supreme Court categorically rejecting his claim that the Election Commission does not have the authority to decide whether a candidate can be disqualified from contesting elections for misrepresenting the amount of money spent on the poll campaign. In what could become a landmark order, the SC observed that the EC was well within its jurisdiction to debar a contestant from fighting polls if it was proved that s/he had misquoted figures spent on sustaining electoral rallies, carrying out propagandist advertorials in newspapers and television channels and other means of reaching out to prospective voters. The top court verdict came after the union government questioned the poll panel’s ‘overreach’ in last year’s ‘paid news’ controversy, according to which Chavan had wrongly filed his assembly election expenditure accounts. This, the EC considered reason enough to disqualify Chavan from contesting the polls – both assembly and parliamentary – even though the panel’s stance was bitterly opposed by the union law ministry, which asserted that the EC was overstepping its responsibilities by discrediting the tainted candidate, which ideally fell under the purview of the legislators. Hence, Rule 89(5) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 and Section 10 A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 became the bones of contention, with the ministry and the panel locked in an acrimonious tug of interpretative war.
However, with SC taking a firm stand in support of the poll panel, declaring that the EC has 45 days to establish the veracity of Chavan’s declared accounts, it is indeed a big victory for the country’s anti-corruption movement. In addition, the ruling has far-reaching implications inasmuch as ethical and legal aspects of financing political campaigns are concerned. As is evident from the staggering quantity of capital lavished on this year’s Lok Sabha elections, with political parties spending tens of thousands of crores on media blitzkrieg, advertorials dressed as electoral coverage and news plants spreading lies and rumours that have resulted in violent riots with heavy casualties – for example in Muzaffarnagar in September last year and the recent ethnic killings in Assam, politics has boiled down to buying off loyalties and saturating the atmosphere with noxious communal gases. Controlling and regulating election expenditure is the first step to ensuring a transparent and fair election, the fulcrum of a functioning and robust democracy. It’s high time, therefore, that political black sheep like Chavan are shunted out from the herd and parties supporting such tainted representatives too are shown the door.