Fri, 28 Feb, 2020

Time to deal with criminalisation of politics

The judiciary should work for speedy disposal of cases with a focus on convictions in respect of corruption and serious crimes to weed out criminalisation of politics

Story: PRABHAKAR | TIMBLE | 15th February 2020, 02:13 Hrs


The judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on February 13 mandating that political parties should adduce reasons for fielding tainted candidates and further provide wide publicity through newspapers and social media listing the criminal background of the contesting candidates is best a statement of noble intentions. We have a reverse parallel to coincide with this order where political parties have moved to a much more advanced stage. On February 13 itself, an MLA with 15 lined up cases of corruption relating to forest encroachment and illegal mining was inducted as minister in the Karnataka cabinet. To cap it, the portfolio allotted is of Forests, Environment and Ecology.

This same person aided the BJP in toppling the JD(S)-Congress coalition government and got re-elected in the by-elections. He has been the MLA from the Bellary region four times, earlier on the Congress ticket. Political parties are of no consequence to such political aspirants and the clean history of candidates does not matter to political parties. On the contrary, a criminal history may prove material. It is not that the electorate is in the dark of the criminal qualifications of their contesting candidates. It’s a mix of muscle, money, caste and party loyalty that finally determines the outcome in elections. Under this backdrop, the directions of the Supreme Court to ensure the extensive promotion of the criminal history of candidates would not provide any additional illumination to the electorate. This is a situation where the voters are blind and not in the dark.

The Association of Democratic Rights (ADR) reports indicate that criminalization of politics has grown manifold in the last ten years. The data analysis of the current Lok Sabha reveals that 43 per cent of the MPs have pending criminal cases as declared whilst filing the nomination papers. The maximum MPs are from BJP (116), followed by Congress (29) and JDU (13). However, if understood in the context of the total MPs from the respective party, JDU stands at 81 per cent, Congress 57 per cent and BJP 39 per cent. Cases on account of the involvement of politicians in protests, agitations and violations of Section 144 are understandable as petty and minor. There could be also instances of political vendetta. The ADR report largely points out to criminal cases involving rape, murder, crimes against women and corruption. An analysis of data at the preliminary stage of contesting elections shows much higher percentages of contestants with criminal records.If the court holds the belief that there is a lack of information about criminalization amongst the citizenry and hence they have administered the remedy for the information gap, the ground position is quite different. A publication of the history of the candidate may be legal enforcement of the right of information of voters. The publication in a newspaper provides access to the details to those ‘who desire to know’ about the candidate’s history. Election campaign precedes the ballot and the competing candidates are best agents to convey such information. Actually, nothing remains hidden in an election. It’s naked on the street.

The direction of the Supreme Court stating “when individuals with pending criminal cases are selected as candidates, the political party should state reasons for such selection, as also why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates” is juvenile. Further, the Supreme Court expects that reasons should be with reference to qualifications, achievements and merits of the candidate. The logic of such direction is beyond comprehension. The Supreme Court gives the feel that it is sitting on a petition challenging the recruitment in public service. The Supreme Court should appreciate that the candidates in the election fray are before the absolute supreme tribunal i.e. the people’s court. In this democratic court, the “impeachment” is straight, simple, direct and speedy, much different from the appointment and removal of judicial officers and the representatives need to seek the consent once in five years.

To the credit of the politicians, it must be said that the candidates are out in the open market braving accolades, criticism and character assassination. This is unlike the judges of the higher judiciary who enjoy constitutional privileges and protection. They can pull up anybody for contempt of court. Even if citizens smell motives, we cannot attribute them to the judge as we owe it to maintain the confidence of the people in this judicial institution.

That’s the reason why citizens keep quiet even when the Supreme Court sleeps over “habeas corpus” petitions and violation of the natural rights of citizens. This should be given the topmost priority by the higher judiciary rather than such issues of lesser significance as in the instant petition. Judgments of this type neither have impact nor incidence. At most, such rulings in a non-turbulent area could be the window dressing to prop up the sunken image of the higher judiciary. Right now, we expect the Supreme Court to break the silence on Article 370, illegal detention of opposition leaders, CAA, NRC, police lawlessness in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and curbs on free speech and internet communication. We do not expect the Supreme Court to take us to fairyland and give directions that are akin to fairy tales.

Cosmetic directions to keep citizens informed cannot even touch the fringe of criminalization of politics. It is not allegations of crime but convictions for the crime that determines the outcome. The judiciary and law enforcement machinery should work for speedy disposal of cases with a focus on convictions in respect of corruption and serious crimes to weed out criminalization of politics. The ill-gotten wealth and illegal sources of income provide the “buying power” in politics. This is the crux of the issue.

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