Decriminalization of Indian Politics

Amit Chanda

That the current electoral system gives a free passage to the persons having grave criminal charges - including charges like murder, kidnapping, rapes & so on - against them to enter, freely, into the electoral fray has been, for quite a long time now, a matter of serious concern. The concerns that has been grappling the minds of thinking citizens are - what laws would such politicians legislate, once they are elected, who are known to be serial offenders themselves ? ; What good would they do for the society who themselves are the darkest known spots of the society? ; What probity would they bring into the public life who themselves occupied the public office through the use of money and muscle power? ; And, what ultimately would happen, if such persons keep entering the House unchecked, to the democracy itself?

That a person is innocent until proved otherwise was the, most convenient, argument forwarded thus far by the persons accused of such criminal charges. And since the Representation of People Act (RPA), under whose aegis the Election Commission functions, is silent on this issue, the EC could not bar such persons, even those charge-sheeted with heinous crimes, from entering the electoral fray. The cumulative result is the "Criminalization of Indian Politics".

Such charge-sheeted persons are, very often, the local "strongman" loaded with money and muscle power - unfortunately though but the two most important things, at present, required to win an election. Unsurprising then that they are the most favored candidates of the mainstream political parties; for winnability, at the end of the day, is the most important factor that goes in for selection of a candidate. Unsurprising though but 36% of the present MPs and MLAs of India, thanks to unabated criminalization of politics, faces criminal charges.

It is in this backdrop that the Supreme Court has finally sought to fix this free-run by ensuring that the voters are fully aware of the criminal antecedents (if any) of the persons they are voting for. According to the directive of the Supreme Court, each candidate from now onwards has to declare charges (if any) against them in the election form and that too in bold letters. The candidate, also, has to inform the party about his criminal antecedents (in any) and the party, then, is obliged to put this information on its website and publicize the matter widely in large-circulation newspaper as well as in electronic media. And this publicity, the SC said, has to be done at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers.

Having taken the first bold step in decriminalizing the politics, the apex court also said that "time has come that the parliament must make law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream". It is, therefore, now incumbent upon the parliament to bring such law to stymie the politics from getting criminalized any further.

While it is true that such a law, if legislated, would unfairly hit some MPs/MLAs; for some of the cases, at the end of the day, turns out to be flimsy, but, also equally important is to ensure that we should no longer grant a free-pass to those actually guilty to go scot-free. 

The way out, therefore, is to fast-track the justice through special courts. And, again on the direction of the apex court only that the government had, actually, set up 12 special courts in 11 states to fast-track criminal cases against the politicians within a prescribed time-frame of one year. If persuaded honestly it will mean that the accused law-makers would quickly, either, be acquitted or convicted of all the charges.

Though it would be over-optimism to hope that the Indian politics, through this one bold step of the Supreme Court, would get cleansed right-away, but it, nonetheless, is a welcome first step towards decriminalization of Indian Politics.

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