litmus-test-for-a-judicial-clean-up-order

Recently Supreme Court judge ordered political parties to publicize the criminal antecedents of candidates that they have selected to contest both parliamentary and State Assembly elections.

  • The apex court has held that the merit of the candidate is as important as “winnability".

Need for cleansing politics

  • Criminalization of politics: There is an alarming increase in the number of persons with criminal antecedents as candidates across the political spectrum. 
  • According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) data, the present Lok Sabha has an all-time high of 43% of its members having one or more criminal cases against them. This is higher than 24% in 2004, 30% in 2009 and 34% in 2014

Earlier attempts of the judiciary to cleanse politics

  1. Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) v. Union of Indian: A 2002 judgment of the SC made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
  2. PUCL v. Union of India: In its 2013 judgment SC upheld the constitutional right of citizens to cast a negative vote in elections. The famous order to introduce None of the above (NOTA) was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
  3. Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013):  The Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act that allowed convicted lawmakers a three-month period for filing an appeal to the higher court and to get a stay on the conviction and sentence.
  4. Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v Union of India (2014): In its landmark judgment of SC directed all subordinate courts to decide on cases involving legislators within a year, or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court.

Concerns 

  1. Politically motivated cases by opponents: The legislation to exclude candidates against whom charges had been framed by a court of law for heinous offenses may be arising out of political vendetta.
  2. Demand from voters: Legislators today are not seen as lawmakers, but problem solvers. With our criminal justice system clogged with cases and lawyers fees often far beyond the affordability, the local don standing for elections is often seen as the messiah for delivering quick justice. 

Way ahead

  • Need for strong legislation: to regulate the functioning of political parties and an unbiased and independent authority to implement it. 
  • Judicial activism is an exception rather than a rule: Hence recourse to judicial activism needs to be taken carefully.

So far whatever significant electoral reforms have taken place have emanated from the Supreme Court. No doubt the political parties will once again prefer for the winnability factor in their selections. 

It remains to be seen how the recent judgment will affect the choices of the political establishment and whether it will have the desired effect in eliminating criminality from future legislatures.

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Making Political Parties Accountable By RTI Act

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