Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

In Parliament’s court

In Parliament’s court Editorial 1st Oct’18 TheHindu

Details :

Judiciary has brought reforms in electoral process in the past:

  • Judiciary paved the way for some important changes in the electoral laws over the years. These include
    • Making it mandatory for candidates to submit an affidavit with full disclosure of criminal cases, if any
    • Mandatory disclosure of the details of candidates’ assets and income
    • Providing an option to voters to exercise None of the Above (NOTA) in case they do not want to vote for any of the candidate contesting an election

 

Electoral candidates with criminal charges:

  • The issue of candidates facing criminal charges getting elected to Parliament and State legislative Assemblies is often raised.
  • However, initiatives to minimise or eliminate this problem have been rather slow.

Data:

  • Lok Sabha:
    • Data indicates that 179 out of the 543 elected MPs in the present Lok Sabha have some kind of criminal case pending against them.
    • In the case of over 100 MPs, the cases were of a very serious nature such as crimes against women and kidnapping (others are less serious like rasta roko etc.).
    • There seems to be very little improvement in this regard in the last five years. In the previous Lok Sabha (2009), 163 had criminal cases pending against them, many of which were of a serious nature.
  • Rajya Sabha:
    • The profile of members of the Upper House is no better; of 228 members of the Rajya Sabha for whom data could be analysed, 20 have cases of serious crimes pending against them.
  • Overall:
    • Going by some estimates, there are more than 1,500 MPs and MLAs in Parliament and State Assemblies with criminal cases pending against them.

 

With regards to candidates with criminal charges, judiciary left it to the legislature to bring changes:

  • The issue of preventing candidates with criminal charges from contesting elections was brought to the Supreme Court.
  • However, in a recent judgment, the Supreme Court has left it to Parliament to legislate on the subject.
  • The court mentioned that it was not within its powers to disqualify politicians facing criminal cases from contesting election.
  • So, it recommended that Parliament enact a strong law.

But candidates must publicize the charges:

  • However, the court made it mandatory for political parties and candidates themselves to make public disclosure through print and electronic media.

 

Low chance of Parliament acting on this:

  • There is serious doubt whether the recent judgment asking Parliment to legislate on this matter would in any way help in making our politics cleaner than before.
  • The chances of Parliament acting fast on this issue are dim.

Reasons:

  • Most of the political parties not open to this change:
    • Political parties raise concern about candidates with a tainted background contesting elections and getting elected.
    • However, none of them come forward to set an example for others when it is time to act.
    • This is because both the national and regional parties have good number of candidates with criminal charges against them.
    • The use of muscle power along with money power is a weapon used by all political parties to maximise electoral gains.
    • In such a scenario, any move to ban candidates with a criminal record from contesting elections would mean political parties inflicting self-harm.
  • Public opinion is also not heavily against such candidates:
    • Public opinion too is not firm on this matter.
    • A survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, found that opinion was divided when people were asked whether they would be willing to vote for a honest candidate who may not get their work done, or a tainted candidate who could get their work done.

 

Conclusion:

  • The issue is far more important and serious than the attention being paid to it by the policy makers.
  • The Election Commission has limited powers to legislate on such laws.
  • The only hope is the Parliament, as only it can legislate to bring about the desired change.

 

Importance:

GS Paper II: Polity

 

Related question:

Candidates with serious criminal charges contesting elections undermines the spirit of electoral democracy but reform in this regard seems difficult to achieve. Discuss.

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