Will parties back new criteria for disqualification of criminal candidates?

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The 16th Lok Sabha has the highest number of MPs with criminal cases against them. (PTI photo)
Terming the current rule which disqualifies members of Parliament or Legislatures upon conviction ‘incapable' of keeping criminals away from electoral politics, the Law Commission has recommended that disqualification should happen upon framing of charges in cases punishable by five years in jail or more.

The panel's report on 'Electoral Disqualifications', which was tabled in Parliament, also recommends that the filing of false affidavit should be treated as a "corrupt practice" under the Representation of the People Act and invite disqualification.

Will be a good move if recommendations are considered:

The Commission, which advises the government on complex legal issues, has made some viable suggestions for this will send a strong message in the political corridor which so far has done too little to restrict the entry of criminal politicians in the executive. It has also recommended enhancement of punishment for such action from the current six months to at least two years along with a fine.

One-third of the ruling BJP’s new MPs are facing criminal charges

It becomes important to mention here that the 16th Lok Sabha has the highest number of MPs with criminal cases against them. As per the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analysed the election affidavits filed before the Election Commission, as many as 34 per cent of the new MPs face criminal charges. While the percentage in 2009 and 2004 stood at 30 and 24 respectively.

As per the ADR report, of 541 newly-elected MPs, 53 have declared criminal cases (where charges have been framed) under Section 8(1) and/or 8(3) of the Representation of People's Act. These MPs will face disqualification whereby the seat would be declared vacant if convicted. This includes Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Uma Bharti.

Over one-third of the ruling BJP's new MPs are facing criminal charges and over a fifth face serious criminal charges. These figures are alarming as it deflates the tall promises made by the party to keep the Parliament free from criminals.

A challenge for Narendra Modi Government:

The data poses a big question mark over morality of the ruling BJP which created a buzz when the Congress-led UPA was proposing an Ordinance to provide protection to convicted lawmakers. BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had openly criticised the Congress for its move and even promised in his poll campaigns that after coming to power his government would make the August House free from MPs maligned in criminal cases.

Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have the highest number of candidates with criminal cases against them where the BJP had won 23, 71 and 21 seats respectively. Hence, the party would also be having a major chunk of its MPs having criminal cases against them. Thus, it is time for the BJP to come clean on this crucial matter and fulfil its promise.

One of the common practices prevalent amongst politicians is filing false affidavit. The panel has also recommended enhancement of punishment for filing false affidavit from the current six months to at least two years along with a fine.

In the report on disqualification and filing of false affidavits, the Commission has said, "The law needs to evolve to pose an effective deterrence and prevent subversion of the process of justice."

Who is to be blamed parties or the people?

With the rise in number of convicted lawmakers making it to the Parliament a pertinent question also arises why political parties pitch for such candidates and most importantly why do the voters, who are aware of the particular candidate's criminal background or criminal charges against him/her vote for such a candidate?

The ADR data shows, across parties, candidates facing criminal charges were more than twice as likely to win as compared to those with a clean record. This proves that the voters preferred such representatives over those having clean image.

Hence, the political parties cannot solely be held responsible for choosing such a candidate if he/she has an upper hand in winning the seat. It is the voters who must be blamed for choosing criminal politicians and they must stop this system. Once, the voters stop voting for such candidates political parties will get a message and will be forced to stop this practice. This would greatly reduce the per cent of criminal MPs in the executive.

Also, there is an urgent need for the Government to pay heed to the suggestions of the Law Commission and adopt zero tolerance towards decriminalizing Indian political system. Ending the entry of criminals into politics is a collective responsibility hence everyone should do his/her bit to achieve this goal.

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