Supreme Court’s judgement is a wakeup call

Our Parliament and state legislatures haven’t bothered paying heed

The Supreme Court has taken a further step in its effort to cleanse public life of criminal elements. This sorry aspect of our political space has taken firm hold and sullied Indian democracy. For well nigh four decades the subject has been a matter of intense discussion with no one quite knowing how to tackle the menace. Over time the Election Commission has made numerous recommendations to change laws or to have new legislation to curb the menace of criminals turning up in legislatures through a valid election process.

Our Parliament and state legislatures haven’t bothered paying heed. This has been self-serving in the extreme. It is only the top court which has been able to do something so far to check criminalisation of politics, and now the Supreme Court has taken one more bold step to do something about a serious problem that troubles everyone. On Thursday, the apex court held in a judgment that in case a winning candidate was found to have concealed his criminal antecedents at the time of filing nominations, the entire election for that constituency would be struck down as null (and a fresh election would have to be held) under appropriate provisions of the Representation of the People Act.

This is a blow for cleaning up our democracy and is bound to demoralise not just the criminal who suffers a setback after winning an election, but also the party that put him up as a candidate. This is a heartening development. In the present judgment the Supreme Court has gone beyond its 2013 pronouncement in which a sitting legislator would lose his membership of the House if a verdict in a criminal case sentenced him to jail for a minimum of two years. This progression is worthy of note by Parliament and the state legislatures, which should see the writing on the wall.

The apex court has rightly noted in the present instance that the hiding of antecedents by the winning candidate in effect meant that voters were denied the opportunity to make an informed choice before they cast their vote. However, instead of nullifying the election itself — a fresh poll will inconvenience the electorate as well as the other candidates who may have remained within the law — is there a legal way to promote the runner-up to the winner’s slot in the event of the original winner being found out?

Seen any which way the present judgment is a wakeup call to political parties, who are primarily responsible for letting tainted elements run on their ticket. If the credibility of the party system — without which no democracy can work — is to be sustained in India, our political parties really must take appropriate steps to do the right thing.

( Source : dc )
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