Assets of candidate affidavits have become meaningless

The ADR judgment of the Supreme Court lies in tatters thanks to the toothless powers of EC.

Mr. Mohanraj, an independent candidate, from Perambalur, anti-corruption crusader and founder of Jebamani Janata party, an unregistered entity, has exposed like none before the futility in the toothless order to candidates to file affidavits on their 'criminal antecedents and assets'. The candidates go through the motions of filing it Form 26 and the Electoral officer or the EC has no mechanism to verify the truth and veracity of the same. Those in the fray may pick up on the lies uttered or the suppressions made. To no effect. The nomination shall sail through as the candidate is not put to any penalty for false averments or false affidavit in entirety. Jebamni, the Jayaprakash Narayan's favourite disciple from Tamil Nadu, must be smiling, wherever at the serious prank and mockery played by a partyman for a party carrying his name.

Honestly, it is no joke. It is serious business. In the Union of India vs Association of Democratic Rights, the Supreme Court went hammer and tongs at the need for 'truth of disclosure and transparency in dealing of our representatives in Legislature who take oath to stand by the Constitution'. The UOI and the Election Commission readily agreed to introduce the changes and Representation of people's Act was also duly tweaked for the said purpose. In the interregnum, the Supreme Court ruled that Art. 324 ruled that 'EC was lord of all it surveys during elections and in the face silence in the statute it could be filled up with orders from the EC'.

Based on this twin premise of power of EC to pass such orders and the need for 'sunlight as disinfectant'- the affidavit of facts became mandatory for the candidates es to be given licence to stand. We do have the spectacle of eyeballs over the assets of the candidates be it Chandrababu Naidu's wife, or the richest candidate or the poorest from Tirupura and so on. They make news for a fleeting moment. And we know anyway the affidavits of 'disclosure' are disclosures which are convenient and not 'truth and nothing but the truth'.

So Mr. Mohanraj may have rendered a huge service by filing a 'false affidavit;. He is not proud to have done so. He has shamed the system for its glitches. Already we have the candidates filing affidavits of expenses within the limits allowed by EC but spending in humongous numbers, which are several times what is legally permissible. It is no dance of Democracy with values. It is Death to Democratic values. And the EC that TN Seshan built into a fearful institution stands exposed warts and all. Not necessarily its making, for the powers that be, whoever has been in Central Government has refused to submit themselves to serious scrutiny with consequences. Contextually read, the Jebamani spisode is not episodal. Every other affidavit filed by the candidates is suspect for there is no mechanism to verify and once the elections are over, no one cares.

The ADR judgment of the Supreme Court lies in tatters thanks to the toothless powers of EC. And every other day, the model code is violated and 'reprimands' follow, to no effect.

In a video message posted to his YouTube page on March 29, Mohanraj openly admits to having filed a totally false affidavit. “In 2014, Karti Chidambaram (of the Indian National Congress, son of former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram) contested from Sivaganga. He filed his nomination on April 4. On April 7, an Income Tax Commissioner from Delhi filed a 147-page complaint, stating that Karti had altered a lot of details and requesting that his nomination be rejected. At that point, there was a rule that there would be a punishment of 6 months' imprisonment for filing false affidavits. I was contesting from Virudhunagar and wrote to the EC. There was no action,” Mohanraj alleges.

He goes on to allege, “In 2016, I tried to bring the issue up again by filing an RTI with the Sivaganga Collector but he took money and said no. There was a lot of back and forth. A PIL I filed with the Madras High Court too was never listed. On April 26 that year, just 10 days later, the EC wrote to me saying that the punishment for filing false affidavits had been made a civil issue,” he says, explaining the rationale for filing a false affidavit.

Former finance minister P Chidambaram's son Karti Chidambaram almost doubled his liabilities in the last five years, his poll affidavit shows. Karti Chidambaram is the Congress candidate from Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency in Tamil Nadu. The poll affidavit he submitted to the Election Commission shows that his liabilities have increased by a whopping 92% since 2014. The affidavit shows that Karti Chidambaram and his wife Srinidhi Chidambaram's liabilities are worth Rs 17.75 crore - 78% of which is in the form of personal loan from family members, including his father, mother-in-law Vasanthi Rangarajan and daughter Aditi. Karti and Srinidhi have taken loans worth Rs 13.81 crore from family members in the five-year period.

As a WhatsApp text in viral mode says, “The tragedy of our Democracy is that someone will win the elections”. How we wish each one of them lost and NOTA won to restore the power where it belongs - to the people.
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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