Criminalisation of Politics

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    Recently, legal and political experts have held that the Election Commision (EC) can act against criminalisation of politics.

    About the Issue

    • There has been a rise in the trend of people with not so clean backgrounds contesting for elections
    • The judgment Rambabu Singh Thakur versus Sunil Arora and Ors held that if a political party fails to comply with the order’s directions, it would be seen as being in contempt. 
    • Immediately after this, Bihar elections  (2020) were held with no decrease in the number of such candidates. 

    Criminalisation of Politics

    • It means the participation of criminals in politics which includes that criminals can contest in the elections and get elected as members of the Parliament and the State Legislatures. 
    • It takes place primarily due to the nexus between politicians and criminals.

    (Image Courtesy: NIE)

    Reasons for Criminalisation of Politics

    • Lack of Political Will: It remains the most persistent problem. Till date most efforts to reform the electoral system have been taken by EC and the Supreme Court (SC) only. It is parliament’s responsibility to amend the Representation of People Act 1951, which deals with disqualification of candidates against whom charges have been proved in court for serious offences.
    • Muscle Power and Corruption: Use of muscle power by politicians to collect votes in their favour. Also, the use of money and other freebies in form of cash and kind both affect the final results of the election to a large extent.
    • Model Code of Conduct: Its blatant violation is seen in almost all elections.
    • Limited Awareness: Making voters aware of candidates with criminal antecedents has its limitations.
    • Lack of Governance: The SC’s orders or other legal mechanisms are not fully followed thereby creating an anarchic environment in the country. Law breakers end up becoming law makers.
    • Polarisation Towards Caste/Religions: People still go by the caste system and favour candidates on its basis instead of considering the actual background of the candidate.

    Supreme Court Judgement

    • It is mandatory for all political parties to publish all details regarding pending criminal cases against their chosen candidates, not only in local newspapers, but also on party websites and social media handles.
    • Directions to ensure the asset disclosure and criminal records of candidates.
    • Along with the details of pending cases, the parties will also have to publish “the reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates”.
    • The “reasons” given for selection of the candidates have to be “with reference to the qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere ‘winnability’ at the polls”.
    • The incorporation of the None Of The Above (NOTA) option in the voting machine.
    • Establishment of special courts in all States for the quick disposal of cases involving elected representatives.

    (Image Courtesy: HT)

    Role of Election Commision of India

    • Article 324: Under it, the ECI can conduct, supervise, and manage elections to Parliament, State Legislatures, the President of India, and the Vice-president of India. 
    • Avoids Executive Interference
      • In the performance of its functions, the EC is insulated from executive interference
      • It decides the election schedules for the conduct of elections, whether general elections or bye-elections. 
      • It also decides on the location of polling stations, assignment of voters to the polling stations, location of counting centres, arrangements to be made in and around polling stations and counting centres and all allied matters.
    • Political Parties
      • Political parties are registered with the EC under the law. 
      • The Commission ensures inner party democracy in their functioning by insisting upon them to hold their organizational elections at periodic intervals. 
      • Political parties registered with it are granted recognition at the State and National levels on the basis of their poll performance at general elections according to criteria prescribed by it.
      • The Commission, as a part of its quasi-judicial jurisdiction, also settles disputes between the splinter groups of such recognised parties.
      • It ensures a level playing field for the political parties in election fray, through strict observance by them of a Model Code of Conduct (MCC) evolved with the consensus of political parties. 
      • It holds periodical consultations with the political parties on matters connected with the conduct of elections; compliance of MCC and new measures proposed to be introduced by the Commission on election related matters. 

    ECI and Real Scenario

    • It has been clearly stated in the rules of the EC that any criminal charge against the candidate of a political party will lead to disqualification from the election but, in reality, according to the survey of 2019, all the major leading political parties candidates have criminal cases against them. 
    • It has been clearly stated in the rule book of the EC that voters should not be served with alcohol and beverages, before polling but if looked at the parliamentary polls in the state of Assam and West Bengal, liquor and psychotropic substances were seized in the rounds of polling. 
    • Apart from these cases, there are many instances in which political parties buy people’s votes by giving them gifts like laptops, utensils, cell phones, property, firearms, etc. Bribing people by giving such things is against the rule of the EC.
    • The use of black money in elections is illegal but many political parties do so for their rallies and buying people for their votes.

    Suggestions

    • Scrutinizing Criminal Background: Persons accused of crimes should not be allowed to stand in elections. The political parties should themselves not give tickets to tainted people.
    • Judiciary’s Role: It should decide the pending and new cases expeditiously. Also, the SC had ordered parties to publish details of candidates with pending criminal cases and reasons why they could not have selected a candidate without such a record. Such recommendations should be followed in totality.
    • Show-cause Notice by EC: EC should issue show-cause notices to parties if it finds the reasons they give for selecting a candidate with criminal antecedents not in consonance with the intent or purport of Constitution
    • Giving EC More Powers: EC can register a political party but cannot deregister it. Regulating the affairs of a political party is essential for a cleaner electoral process hence imperative to strengthen EC.
    • Following Committees’ Recommendations: The recommendations of N N Vohra Committee, Inderjeet Committee, Dinesh Goswami Committee and others should be implemented.
    • Amending RPA: RPA should be amended to debar a person with a heinous crime record from contesting elections.
    • Campaign Financing: It should be made more transparent. Electoral Bonds are a start in this process but it is only scratching the surface.
    • NOTA: The SC in People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India, 2013 ruled that voters should have the option of NOTA on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to ensure the option for those who do not find any candidate suitable. This option is not yet being fully used. If the percentage share of valid votes is maximum for NOTA, then elections should be held null and void so that final power actually remains with the citizens of India

    Way Forward

    • There cannot be an electoral reform without judicial and police reforms
    • The Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and other provisions should assist in the successful implementation of electoral reforms. 
    • The investigation and trial of cases should be expedited and there should be an effort to disseminate information to voters.
    • Making elections free and fair should be the only motive while implementing changes.

    Source: TH