The Supreme Court deserves compliments to have come alive on the critical question of tainted netas fighting elections. The bench of Justices R F Nariman and S. Ravindra Bhat said on January 24 that something “needs to be done in national interest’ to control the problem. It has asked the Election Commission and the BJP petitioner, Ashwini Upadhyay and other, to sit together and frame a joint proposal “in a spirit of cooperation” without treating the matter as “adversarial litigation?
The EC’s senior advocate, Vikas Singh, reportedly told the bench that the apex court’s earlier verdict had not made any impact in controlling the problem as more than 43 per cent of winners in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls have criminal antecedents and therefore face criminal cases against themselves. This is quite a serious matter which can no longer be overlooked.
Cancerous cells of the criminalization of politics seem to be eating into the body-politic, maiming it and hampering its progress. The rot is at the root. The moot point is: what is the nature of this cancer and the rottenness? Who has induced this cancerous growth in the national character which has infected it with germs of decay? These questions have agitated the public mind for decades? But, regrettably, no satisfactory answers have so far been provided by the powers-to-be.
An ineffectual and decadent polity, of course, suits upstart politicians and their vested interests. Since the voices of sanity these days have taken a backseat, a permissive atmosphere has come to dominate all segments of politics. No wonder, men of influence and money can easily nibble at the electoral structure for self-promotion. What is regrettable is that the public is seen as mute witness to the murky goings-on in national and state affairs.
Of course, the people often vent their anger at the hustings without realizing that most of the ills of the system are by-products of structural defects, corrupt practices and faulty electoral laws. A faulty establishment would only give wrong signals to the disadvantage of genuine persons and right causes. Mercifully, this is now viewed by the public in a wider perspective for reforms. This keeps our hopes alive for a better tomorrow.
Looking back, the country has suffered for long since our rulers primarily indulge in shadow boxing. They have to face the problem boldly and with determination. As it is, some of the laws and regulations enacted or introduced in the name of reforms happen to exist only on paper or have outlived their utility. But what can be done if the system as a whole becomes money-oriented?
Of course, India’s electoral system is both elaborate and complex. At the same time, the “dynamism” of the political system and the assertive electorate has shown its structural gaps and operational weaknesses of Indian democracy. Equally worrying is the nexus between money bags, criminals and politicians. In this setting, black money pours in, generating more and more black money. Millions of rupees are churned out by the electoral system in the process while sustaining democracy..
Viewed in a larger perspective, a number of points can be made straight away.
First, the existing electoral system has made today’s politics a source of money bags.
Second, the increasing influence of money has adversely affected the quality of our legislators and parliamentarians.
Third, money bags loosened the bonds of fair-play and justice in the polity.
Four, money politics has established the nexus of politicians with smugglers and underworld dons. Small wonder, that several legislators are known to have criminal records.
Five, the money factor is gradually shaking the faith of educated and honest Indians in the democratic system. This erosion of faith in the vitality and viability of the electoral system could be dangerous, if corrective measures are not initiated urgently.
In fact, a balance between “power and accountability” has to be worked out with full determination and drive.
I have full faith in Prime Minister Naendra Modi. I am sure that he would address himself to the question of electoral reforms sooner or later. What is baffling is that he has been somewhat indifferent to this issue so far despite the rising cases of MPs and even his ministers with criminal records.
A report from Association for Democratic reforms says that Prime Minister Modi’s new cabinet has more ministers with declared criminal cases than his 2014 team.
Of the 57 ministers inducted in Narendra Modi - led NDA government in 2019, 22 (39 p.c.) have declared criminal cases against themselves. Of these, 16 ministers have serious criminal cases registered against them.
Equally disturbing is the presence of tainted MPs in parliament. In the 2014 election, a third, or 34 per cent, of the 543 elected to parliament were accused of various bone-chilling crimes.
Out of the 539 parliamentarians analysed in the Lok Sabha of 2019, as many as 233 MPs have declared criminal cases against themselves. The figure is alarming when it comes to criminal cases.
It is really highly regrettable that more than 4,000 criminal cases are pending against sitting and fore MPs and former MPs and MLAs of state assemblies. It must be said in fairness to the apex court that it had asked Parliament to “cure the malignancy” of criminalization of politics by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena.
It has also advised parliament that the “polluted stream of politics” be cleansed.
Holding that the criminalization of politics is an “extremely disastrous and lamentable situation”, the five-judge constitution bench headed by erstwhile Chief Justice Dipak Misra said this “unsettling increasing trend” has the propensity to “send shivers down the spine of a constitutional democracy”.
The court has added that the criminalization of politics was “not incurable” but the issue has to be dealt with soon before it becomes “fatal” to democracy. “Our Indian democracy has seen a steady increase in the level of criminalization creeping into the Indian polity. This tends to disrupt constitutional ethos, strike at the root of democratic for of government and make citizens suffer”, the judges added.
In this context, it must be said that the election financing system and the selection process of fielding persons for the legislatures and Parliament must be made both transparent and accountable and ensure that people have access to better services and equitable justice delivery system.
We must not play with the country’s claim to be the world’s largest democracy. A reasonable meeting ground must be evolved since electoral reforms hold the key to the future of Indian democracy.