Coming straight to the crux of the core issue, let me begin by first and foremost stating explicitly that the Election Commission of India has very rightly and commendably told the Supreme Court that it has proposed to the Centre to amend the law and bar people accused of an offence punishable with at least five years from contesting elections after charges were framed against them by a court. Why when criminals are barred from getting any government job are they eligible to become the makers of the law itself? Why such an open mockery of our law makers?
It is because of all this that we are now seeing right before our eyes that the Chief Secretary of Delhi is being assaulted brutally by AAP MLAs and that too right in the house of the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal without any fear! We are also seeing how MPs immediately start slapping anyone at the drop of a hat! This can never be condoned or overlooked under any circumstances! We have just no option before us but to bar criminals permanently from politics for once and all!
Truth be told, if any one wants to get any government job, there should not be even a single case pending and even if someone maliciously lodges FIR then that itself is sufficient to bar that candidate from acquiring any government job! When there are so strict parameters for acquiring any government job then why for becoming MPs and MLAs there are no such similar strict rules? Why no amendments have been made till now in the last 70 years in this regard?
To put things in perspective, in an affidavit filed in the top court, the Election Commission of India said that it has actively taken steps to decriminalize politics and also made recommendations, but “any further steps to effectively decriminalize politics would require legislative amendments, which is beyond the scope” of the poll panel. So, without a doubt, it is the legislature that must step into the gas and do the requisite groundwork in this direction so that criminals are permanently barred from contesting polls. Why can’t the legislature do it immediately just like it acts promptly when it wants to hike its own pay?
As it turned out, in its affidavit the Election Commission of India said people against whom charges have been framed by a court for offences punishable with at least five years should be barred from contesting polls if the cases were registered against them at least six months prior to the election. The matter is listed for hearing before a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. The affidavit said that the Election Commission of India should be given the power to de-register political parties and be authorized to issue necessary orders regulating registration and deregistration of parties.
Simply put, the affidavit said the poll body has been raising the issue of criminalization of politics since 1998 and had sent proposals to the Centre in this regard on July 15, 1998 which were reiterated by it in the recommended electoral reforms of July 2004 and December 2016. Yet nothing happened. The answer is quite implicit. Politicians always treat themselves as above all laws of the land!
Permit me to say: This alone explains why till now even after more than 70 years of independence we see criminals entering politics and becoming MPs and MLAs without any legal hassle of any kind! Criminals are ruling the roost in politics! How can we expect them to change the law and bar criminals from contesting polls?
Needless to say, the Election Commission while referring to one of the proposals said that, “The Commission had proposed that the law should be amended to provide that any person who is accused of an offence punishable by imprisonment for five years or more should be disqualified from contesting election even when trial is pending, provided charges have been framed against him by the competent court”. What wrong has Election Commission said? In fact, this should have happened long time back!
Going forward, the Election Commission of India in its affidavit also said that, “The Commission reiterates that such a step would go a long way in cleansing the political establishment from the influence of criminal elements and protecting the sanctity of the legislative houses.” Again who can deny or dispute this? But what we are seeing on the ground is that a large number of MPs and MLAs have criminal background and have serious charges of crime cases pending against them in various courts!
While citing its proposals, the Election Commission of India said that people with criminal background and accused of serious offences by contesting elections send very negative signals about the electoral process. A mockery is made of our whole democratic system by allowing historysheeters to become MPs and MLAs and contesting elections even from jails for having committed most heinous offences! How can any good democratic country permit this to happen?
It cannot be lost on us that the affidavit was filed on a plea by lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who sought that convicted people should be barred from forming political parties and becoming their office-bearers for the period they were disqualified under the election law. What wrong has Ashwini said? There is a lot of merit in what he has said so candidly!
Let me tell you: The poll panel, while referring to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, said that the law did not expressly confer any power on the Election Commission of India regarding deregistration of political parties. This job is of the legislature. But it has been lacklustre and has evinced no real interest in this regard which alone explains that why till now we have no law to bar criminals from contesting polls.
It needs no rocket scientist to conclude that all this has only served to increase further the percentage of politicians with criminal background to enter politics. As per an analysis of the electoral college by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), of the total number of MPs and MLAs, 33 percent members have declared criminal cases against themselves in a self-sworn affidavit filed with the Election Commission of India before their most recent elections. The statement of ADR also read that, “34% of Lok Sabha MPs, 19% of Rajya Sabha MPs and 33% of MLAs (all state assemblies/UTs) analysed have declared criminal cases against themselves.”
No wonder that the analysis by ADR further also brings out that 20 percent members have serious criminal cases against themselves. The popular names under this category are RJD MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, AITC MP Becharam Manna and RJD MP Mohammed Iliyas Hussain.This is certainly most concerning!
If we go by statistics, we would find that the general election of 2014 has seen the highest number of politicians with criminal records being elected to the Indian Parliament. As per records, every third newly elected MP in the Indian Parliament has a criminal record. 186 (about 34 percent) of the newly elected MPs have confessed in their election affidavits that they have criminal charges against them. In the 2009 Lok Sabha, the figure was 158 (about 30 percent) of the elected members of Parliament.
Among the newly elected MPs, 112 have declared that they have serious criminal cases, including the ones related to murder, attempt to murder, communal disharmony, kidnapping and crimes against women lodged against them. The ADR report reveals that nine leaders in Parliament have murder cases while another 17 have attempt to murder against them. Similarly, there are two MPs who have cases related to crimes against women.
It is noteworthy that the report also notes that among the elected leaders in the Parliament, there are 16 with cases related to communal disharmony registered against them. There are 10 MPs who have been charged for robbery and dacoity and seven have cases related to kidnapping. Do they really deserve to become an MP or even an MLA?
How can all this be condoned? Should they not be barred from contesting polls and if they are not barred, what will happen? The percentage of criminals entering politics will steadily increase as we are seeing right now before us. Can we allow this to happen under any circumstances?
On a concluding note, it is still not too late. No time should be wasted in immediately implementing what the Election Commission of India has so explicitly suggested: Bar all criminals who have serious criminal charges pending against them which are punishable with at least five years from contesting elections after charges are framed against them by a court.
All in all, Parliament must be honest enough to appreciate what the Election Commission has suggested and should waste no time in implementing it swiftly and sternly so that no criminal is ever able to take advantage of the loopholes that are prevailing in our legal system and thus making a complete mockery of it! Here lies the real tragedy! We never see Parliament doing its job well in time and it is criminals with serious criminal charges who are really enjoying the last laugh because of this for which those in Parliament are squarely responsible for not doing enough to address this serious malaise that is afflicting and corroding our democratic system from within!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.