Two orders of the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking better accountability and transparency from the executive branch of government and the political parties that run them will have a salutary impact on the democratic processes, and hence must be welcomed. A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India has held that state governments would henceforth need the concurrence of the high court concerned if a criminal case registered against an MLA or an MP is withdrawn. In the other order, the Supreme Court has insisted its order of February 2020 that all parties disclose the details of the criminal cases against the candidates they put up for election within 48 hours of their selection; it fined eight parties for disobeying its order during the elections to the Bihar Assembly last year.
The executive has the power to drop cases with the concurrence of the court concerned but the Supreme Court was forced to intervene when the practice of governments withdrawing cases, even those of grave and heinous nature, crossed limits. It had little option but to act when faced with the fact that the Karnataka government withdrew about 60 cases booked against lawmakers, and the reports on the move by the Uttar Pradesh government to withdraw cases against MLAs accused in cases relating to Muzaffarnagar riots in which 65 persons were killed and around 40,000 persons were displaced. There is nothing to dramatic or fundamental about the Supreme Court order; cases, once filed, need the concurrence of the court concerned if they were to be dropped. The Supreme Court has now brought the high court into the scene, with the hope that the process will gain the seriousness it deserves.
The order imposing fine on political parties for non-disclosure of details of criminal cases against their candidates will also have some salutary effect on the electoral process. The court insisted that defiance of its order be treated as contempt of court. Decriminalisation of the electoral process has been a long-term agenda of several institutions including the judiciary and Election
Commission of India but it has made little progress over the years. It is debatable if such institutions can prescribe conditions on those whom people want as their representatives, but the court has done the maximum it can — that the people will be informed of the antecedents of the contestants so that they can make an informed choice. This will put pressure on the political parties to come up with candidates who cannot be sunk by their own past.
The orders will have some redeeming effect in the minds of the people about the democratic processes and governance. Democracy is all about trust — the people elect their representatives as trustees to manage their affairs. Attempts by elected representatives to violate that trust by undermining or bypassing rule of law will have long-standing consequences, and hence must be discouraged. Political parties must realise that a change of government is no mandate to change the course of law. They must also realise that they ought to be transparent about the people who they present before voters to be their representatives. The judiciary can only do so much; ultimately it is for the political class to cleanse the system.