Supreme Court Orders Again to Stop Criminality in Politics

Voters waiting at a polling booth in India. Photo: PIB (Representational Image)
Voters waiting at a polling booth in India. Photo: PIB (Representational Image)

The objective is to bring transparency in the Indian political system which is getting increasingly criminalized.

By Rakesh Raman

With the aim to decriminalize politics, the Supreme Court of India has once again asked the political parties to make criminal records of their election candidates public within 48 hours of their selection. The court issued the order Tuesday (August 10).

As most political parties have defied the February 2020 orders of the Supreme Court, the petitions have asked for contempt against these parties for not obeying the court directive.

In response to an earlier ruling in February 2020 before the Bihar election, the Election Commission (EC) had asked the political parties to release the details of criminal cases of their candidates.

However, since most political outfits are full of criminals, they are reluctant to follow the EC or the court directive. According to reports, the election authority had sent a letter to 150 registered parties in Bihar, advising them to disclose the reasons for selecting candidates with criminal records. But the letters came back, as they were not received at the addresses of at least 20 parties.

The Supreme Court had directed the political parties to decriminalize politics by taking some specific steps. The court had said in its order that the political parties will have to declare on their websites and social media channels the details of candidates who are facing criminal cases and the reasons for selecting them for elections. The objective is to bring transparency in the Indian political system which is getting increasingly criminalized.

The court decision had come just a couple of days after the Delhi Assembly election in which the winning group Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had fielded 36 of the 70 candidates who have serious charges against them.

The Supreme Court had also said that the parties must submit the same details to the Election Commission within 72 hours of selecting such candidates, adding that the selection should be based on merit and not the winnability of a candidate. The court said its directions shall apply to national as well as assembly elections in states.

A bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman noted the alarming rise in the number of candidates with criminal charges entering the fray and decided that the top court should use its extraordinary powers to inform the citizens so they could elect the right candidates.

The Supreme Court order said categorically that if the political parties failed to furnish the details of the criminality of their candidates or the Election Commission failed to implement the directive, it would amount to contempt of court.

Meanwhile, the world’s top magazine The Economist says “a penchant for criminality is an electoral asset in India.” The magazine has published data about the political success of India’s “accused murderers, blackmailers, thieves, and kidnappers,” saying that 34% of India’s members of parliament (MPs) in the Lok Sabha have criminal charges filed against them.

Also, 42% ministers in the Indian government are facing serious criminal cases. India’s leading election research organizations National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) have analyzed the self-sworn latest affidavits of all 78 ministers (including Prime Minister Narendra Modi) from Lok Sabha 2019, current Rajya Sabha, and assembly elections.

According to the NEW-ADR report released on July 9, in a recent cabinet expansion on July 7, 43 new ministers were inducted in the cabinet. This report focuses on the criminal, financial, and educational details of the ministers in the Modi government. 

Earlier, in September 2018, a 5-judge constitution bench had asked the Central government to immediately enact laws to ban those involved in serious crimes from contesting elections and becoming party officials.

The court judgment had come in response to the contempt petitions against the Central government and the Election Commission, alleging that no serious efforts were made to stop the criminalization of politics despite the court order.

The Election Commission had said during arguments that the court order to publish criminal details of the candidates was not having any impact and suggested that political parties must be directed not to give election tickets to people with criminal cases.

The court had earlier ordered that candidates must publish their criminal details in the newspaper thrice after filing their nomination. The petitioner alleged that the Election Commission had not attempted to implement this order effectively.

In response to the court order, the EC had sent a directive to all 2,543 national political parties in the country to collect the criminal records of their candidates. But the parties did not cooperate.

Now the court is hearing a petition that asks for suspending the election symbol of political parties that do not disclose criminal details of their candidates publicly.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.

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