Saturday 30 Sep 2023

Poll process is under review, need to also rethink on legislators

| SEPTEMBER 13, 2023, 11:50 PM IST

Amid a raging debate over simultaneous elections under the banner of 'one nation, one election', its feasibility and costs, poll rights body Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) has once again revealed startling facts in its report generated out of the affidavits filed by MPs before contesting elections.

Data shows that 40 per cent, which means 306 out of the 763 sitting MPs, have criminal cases registered against them. That's not all. A good 25 per cent have declared serious criminal cases under charges of murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping and crimes against women. 139 BJP leaders and 49 Congress members figure prominently on the list. Each MP's average worth of assets is put at Rs 38.33 crore, with 53 declared as billionaires.

The criminal antecedents shown in the data are a cause of concern for a country that boasts about electoral reforms and its 'grand' democracy.

In Goa, the scene is no better. Out of the 40 MLAs, 16 have criminal cases registered against them, out of which 13 are serious in nature, including a rape case. Moreover, ADR data analysis shows that Goa tops the list of the highest number of legislators with serious criminal cases against them among small States.

The Goa uptrend in legislators with criminal backgrounds is disturbing. If there were nine tainted MLAs in 2007, the figure shot up to 12 in 2012, marginally lowered to 11 in 2017 and now stands at 16.

The Centre's seriousness about the idea of a 'One Nation One Election' may be to bring uniformity in the electoral process, but why is it not seriously considering measures to decriminalise politics? The Election Commission of India had told the Supreme Court earlier this year that it had actively taken steps to decriminalise politics and made recommendations, but further action was required in the form of legislative amendments. The poll panel was of the view that those leaders charged with cognisable offences punishable with imprisonment of at least five years where charges were framed should be barred from contesting elections.

A 40 per cent ratio of MPs with criminal backgrounds is a threat to the constitutional ethos of the country, as much as the one-third count in Goa. While the 'one-nation, one-election' is being debated and reviewed, there is also a similar need to weed out the black sheep from the political system. If constitutionalism is to be upheld, then the country needs people with clean backgrounds.

Sadly, morality has faded from the political landscape. Leaders no longer take responsibility for failures. In 1956, Lal Bahadur Shastri took moral responsibility and quit after a railway tragedy in Tamil Nadu. In 1957, India witnessed its first major political scam, and Finance Minister TT Krishnamachari resigned. In 1962, Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon quit taking responsibility for the debacle against China. In 1992, Minister of State for Commerce P Chidambaram resigned over charges of a share quota scam and in 1993, Minister for Civil Aviation Madhavrao Scindia resigned after an aircraft crash. There are many others.

In current times, leaders appear to hold on to the mantra of 'not guilty until proven', and political hierarchies endorse that. We hear strange coinage of words like "attempt to scam" instead of a scam. The practice of publishing the criminal history of candidates has not helped India's cause; neither has the plea of the EC to deny tickets to those with criminal backgrounds. If the electoral process is undergoing a metamorphosis, decriminalisation of politics cannot be left out.

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