Decriminalizing politics

supreme court

The increasing murkiness of Indian politics, combined with the corrosion of public life, has shaken the people’s faith in the system and politicians who are known to pander to criminal mafia. The nexus of netas and anti social elements is, unfortunately, a fact of public life in India today. The people often find themselves helpless since no firm action is initiated against them. I see a ray of hope now as our judiciary has taken a tough line against the country’s obnoxious facets of politics.

The Supreme Court deserves all praise for directing the Centre to constitute Special Courts on the lines of the Fast Track Courts to exclusively and speedily try criminal cases involving politicians. The Apex Court has come into the picture since the Government had been dragging its feet on its March 2014 directive to dispose of cases against 1,518 lawmakers facing prosecution in 1.35 lakh cases ‘within a year’. It is said that on an average 4,200 cases are handled by each of 17,000 subordinate courts, due to which cases against politicians cannot be fast tracked.

Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha have asked the Centre to frame a scheme to fund the setting of the Special Courts so that states are spared of the burden of finding resources. We welcome this pro-active face of the Apex Court to decriminalize politics since netas happen to be groomed and nurtured by the establishment’s ‘soft state’ attitude which makes it dither in this critical task of cleansing the polity.

It is a pity that the political track record of our rulers over the years has been far from flattering. That is why the judiciary has taken an interventionist role in several dubious moves by the ruling class of the day. For instance, it quashed a provision in the Representation of the People Act which allowed convicted law makers to escape disqualification.

The Election Commission has, of course, taken a very clear stand in this matter. It is in favour of a life ban of convicted MPs and MLAs from contesting elections. It has conveyed to the court that such a law is needed to curb a growing menace of criminalization of politics.

It is also no secret that the criminalization of politics has been a major problem before the nation for the past several decades. What is regrettable is that political parties have looked the other way whenever the issue of putting an end to criminalized politics has come up for action.

The moot point is: how can we improve the quality of our democratic polity if persons with doubtful credentials are allowed to contest elections? Who is to blame? Obviously, political parties which give tickets to candidates with a shady past.

Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADG) from election affidavits show one-third of law-makers face criminal cases. Apparently, in the country’s murky politics, political parties solely see the winnability of their candidates, based not on their character and integrity but on their money and muscle power. How come our leaders, who swear by principles and morality, happen to be so casual about this problem?

Looking back, I was disappointed at the way the country’s major national and regional parties had rejected in 2002 the Election Commission’s order that asked candidates to disclose their criminal antecedents in the form of an affidavit along with their nomination papers. The Election Commission then was only following the directions of the Apex Court.

It is interesting to recall the information then sought from candidates:
One: the details of candidates’ involvement in any criminal case.
Two: any pending criminal cases six months before filing of nomination.
Three: assets of candidates, their spouse and dependents.
Four: liabilities and debts in government and public institutions.

It is a fact that our leaders, by and large, have been indifferent to the question of information sharing with the public. But, any bid to cover up the credentials of candidates is not only undesirable but also counter-productive in the long run.

The question here is not of the legislature versus the judiciary. The judiciary legitimately intervenes if the legislature and the executive fail to perform their constitutionally-assigned duties. Call it judicial activism. But it must be noted that the power vacuum cannot remain for long in the critical area of governance!

The people have the right to get correct information about the persons they have to elect as their representatives, who frame laws to govern the world’s largest democracy. This is how we can ensure transparency and accountability in our legislative bodies and Parliament. This is essential, if democracy has to reflect the people’s hopes and aspirations. I shall, in fact, go a step ahead.

I believe that the people have the right to know what goes behind a policy decision-making process. Of course, I would exclude operational security and defence matters from this information flow. But I would not suggest this on the critical issue of Demonetisation which directly affects the life of ordinary citizens. Regrettably, the country is yet to know who and what went behind Prime Minister Modi’s Demo brainwave. In fact, the political decision on Noteban cannot be justified even on ethical and moral grounds as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has done. The sufferings of common men and loss of jobs of lakhs of workers speak louder than the thundering voices of the Prime Minister and his ministers in defence of DeMo.

As already stated, the people have the right to know. The current air of secrecy has to end. Secretiveness, for that matter, is the antithesis of democracy. In India, the political class has made a virtue of it. As things stand, even honesty is at a discount for all practical purposes.

Crime and crime-oriented tendencies of big and small political parties and politicians negate the democratic norm of social, economic and political justice and equality of status and opportunity enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution. The economics of politics and electioneering processes have actually weakened the political will to make the country’s democratic structure a mirror of the common man’s hopes and aspirations.

The question here is not one of saving the Constitution, but of saving the Nation and making the polity transparent, accountable, functionally and democratically more liberal, just and caring for ordinary citizens.

Here I wish to recall the observations of Justice B Lentin, former Bombay High Court Judge. He said: The Constitution has not failed the people, nor have the people failed the Constitution. It is only the unscrupulous politicians who have failed both! Herein lies the challenge.

The mushroom growth of unscrupulous politicians is in itself a result of bad laws and the faulty and inadequate electoral system that has put a premium on moneybags and mafia power. The time has come to say ‘no’ to criminalized politics and crime-linked politicians.

To say this is not to brush all politicians with black ink. Here, we have to draw a line between genuine politicians and bad ones having criminal cases of serious nature like murder, rapes, crimes against women and children and corrupt practices.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *