In Public Interest Foundation Case, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice Dipak Misra issued directions aimed at decriminalisation of politics. The bench said malignancy of criminalisation of politics was ‘not incurable‘ but the issue was required to be dealt with soon before it becomes ‘fatal‘ to the democracy.
According to the prevalent law, the lawmakers and candidates are barred under the Representation of Peoples Act (RPA) from contesting elections only after their conviction in a criminal case. The current verdict was pronounced on a question whether lawmakers facing criminal trial can be disqualified from contesting elections at the stage of framing of charges against them.
What is Representation of Peoples Act (RPA)?
Representation of Peoples Act 1951 is an act enacted by the Indian provincial parliament before first general elections. The People’s Representation act provides for the actual conduct of elections in India. The act also deals with details like qualification and disqualification of members of both houses of Parliament (ie Loksabha and Rajyasabha) and the state legislatures (ie. State Legislative Assembly and State Legislative Council). Rules for the mode of conduct of elections is highlighted in detail.
Reasons for Criminalisation of Politics
- Institutionalization of Corruption: In elections, parties without exception put up candidates with a criminal background. The general trend is that these candidates are elected to office.
- Vote Bank: Majority of Indian voters are Maneuverable and purchasable. This expenditure and maneuvering leads to criminal and political nexus.
- Functioning of Election Commission: Common man is hardly aware of the rules and regulations of Election commission, which gives a clean chit to flout the Model Code of Conduct by the candidates.
- Lack of governance: The country’s poor governance capacity in addition with understaffed administration again makes it even more vulnerable.
- Denial of Justice: In 2017, out of all the cases pending against MPs and MLAs, only 11% received judgement.
- Beyond RPA: No regulation for the appointments to the offices within the party.
- Data from the last three general elections shows that the strategy was an electoral success as candidates with criminal cases were three times more likely to win than a “clean” candidate.
|Key Fact: 17 per cent of 5,380 candidates contesting the Lok Sabha election 2014 have declared criminal charges in their affidavits submitted to the Election Commission; 10 per cent have declared serious criminal charges such as murder and rape charges.|
Impacts of Criminalisation in Politics
- The people who are being tried for various offences are given the opportunity to make laws for the whole country, which undermines the sanctity of the Parliament.
- It will hamper governance, along with transparency and accountability of the government and political system.
- Wherever a candidate’s criminal reputation is perceived as an asset, it will only bring forward a case of inconsistency.
- Expensive election campaigning favours candidates with strong financial background. Such candidates, when elected, seek to recover their expenses which leads to the massive corruption in India.
- This brings in the culture of muscle and money power in the politics.
- It also hampers the inner party democracy and criminalization of politics perpetuates itself and deteriorates the overall electoral culture.
- It is apparent that those with political influence take advantage of their power to stall any meaningful progress. This may question the credibility of the judiciary.
- Pendency of cases in the courts increases i.e., the average number of years that criminal cases against MPs have been pending is seven (until 2009).
STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT
- The ECI has achieved considerable success in containing the role of muscle power through measures such as the effective implementation of the model code of conduct.
- The setting up of the expense monitoring cell.
- Election Commission launches unique app for voters to report poll code violations. (cVigil)
- The Supreme Court recommended that the Parliament must make law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream.
- Introduction of EVM, VVPAT also helps in minimizing the external intervention.
- There is a need to curb the high cost of campaigning to provide a level playing field for anyone who wants to contest elections.
- Election Commission should take leverage of social media platform to inseminate information and awareness.
- As recommended by the Law Commission of India’s report on Electoral Disqualifications, by effecting disqualification of tainted politicians at the stage of framing of charges, with adequate safeguards, the spread of criminalisation of politics may be curbed.
- Conviction on the charge of filing of a false affidavit must be grounds for disqualification as recommended by the Law Commission.
- RPA and Model Code of Conduct needs to be enforced effectively.
- In this era of digitization, technology should be leveraged to take enhance the governance.
The entry of criminals in election politics must be restricted at any cost. If it is not checked in time, it will erode the political system totally. The new India needs the educated, talented youth as its leader which thrives to take us on a forward sloping growth. With recent judgements and latest initiatives, surely we will be talking about criminalization with a historical point of view.