An Informed Voter is an Empowered Voter

Why in News?

  • By ordering political parties to make public the criminal charges their poll candidates face, the top court has struck a blow for transparency.

Criminalization of Politics – Undermines Democracy:

  • Association of Democratic Report (ADR) states that 30% of the members of the Lok Sabha in 2009 had criminal cases against them, which scourge went up to 34% in 2014, and has further reached an alarming level of 43% as regards the elected members of the 17thLok Sabha in 2019.
  • Of these 29% of those elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019 have declared serious crimes.
  • The ADR analysis shows that candidates facing criminal charges had double the chances of winning as compared to those with a clean record.
  • Another disquieting fact is that not more than 6 per cent of the criminal cases against Indian MPs and MLAs ended in a conviction, as per the data submitted by the Centre to the Supreme Court

Reasons for Criminalization:

  • Currently, under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
  • Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections. The Lily Thomas case (2013), however, ended this unfair advantage.
  • Vote bank:Candidacy tickets are awarded on the basis of who is likely to win at the elections. The more respectable reason offered in cases of unproven allegations against politicians is that their fate is best left to the so-called “people’s court”.
  • Corruption and nexus between political parties and criminals for financial funding, etc.
  • Lack of Governance:As the Indian judiciary is also already over-burdened and can take years to resolve a case, every political party in the country feels emboldened to unhesitatingly and unashamedly field any number of candidates with a criminal record if their chances of winning are bright.
  • People in public life are vulnerable to false charges as part of smear campaigns against them by rivals.
  • Police forces in India are not independent of political control and doubts hover over the autonomy of investigative agencies as well.

Efforts by Supreme Court:

  • In 2002, it made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
  • The famous order to introduce NOTA was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
  • Special Fast track Courts :the SC accepted the urgent need for cleansing politics of criminalisation and 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.
  • Recently, the Supreme Court directed all political parties to publish all criminal cases pending against their poll candidates in newspapers and on their own online interfaces, be it websites or Social Media Sites. 
  • They must also put out an explanation other than “winnability” for such choices. 
  • If they fail to do this within 48 hours of the selection of candidates, and do not submit a compliance report within 24 hours of their nomination papers being filed, which happens later, the Election Commission of India would have to lodge a contempt petition against them.

Way Forward:

1.Political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.

2. The RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.

3. Fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly

4. Police reforms are sorely needed.Until we have a law enforcement system that is demonstrably upright and just, parties can get away by telling voters that their candidates are victims of slander.

5. The electors have to take up a greater responsibility by resisting the lure of money for votes, pushing aside the caste as well as religious factors, refusing to be swayed by the social media, thereby prevent the criminalisation

Source: The Livemint

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