Last week the Supreme Court directed political parties to upload on their websites and social media platforms within 48 hours of nominations being filed details of criminal cases against their candidates. It also said reason be given why a person with a criminal background was offered ticket when the party could have gone for a clean candidate.
The Apex court directive comes on the heels of many of Aam Aadmi Party MLAs facing criminal charges. The ritual of decriminalising Indian politics by the judiciary started long back given the “alarming rise in the criminalization of politics.” So far it has been a vain effort as historically political parties, judiciary, election commission & caste-ridden voters had prevented of filth politics being cleaned to effect changes in Indian politics.
Congress ruled India most of the time since Independence and had created nexus of Criminalisation and Corruption which was actualised by national and regional parties to out-herod Herod. It was a means to stay relevant in politics as Indian democracy signifies “all is fair in love and politics.”
Admittedly, the present court diktat comes after the water had gone over the head. The court in its diktat also said ‘merit of the candidate is as important as “winnability”’? What merit is apex court talking about? Is it not judicial whimsicality when Caste Quotas ad infinitum and Mandalisation of the polity had long been turned into a reality thanks to judicial indiscretion?
Million Dollar Question
Can the directive of the court work in the morbid electoral regime when criminality is the criterion for “winnability”? Can such directives be carried out to its logical conclusion by the Centre or Election Commission?
There is an extraordinary unity among the political class to oppose the judiciary when it comes to safeguarding their privileges which is the criminal-neta corrupt nexus. One such instance was Mandal agitation when politicians forced the Supreme Court to accept a flawed casteist report. The criminalisation of polity is a fair game for electoral victory. All part of divide-and-rule sanctified in India’s sub-consciousness though it drastically militates against nation’s unity & integrity.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra said in 2018 that citizens have a right to be informed about criminal antecedents of their candidates and Parliament ought to ensure criminal politicians do not contest elections, and that political parties put “all information” about the candidates on the website.
Judicial diktat keeps ignoring the fact that Parliament knows the disease without having the wherewithal for the cure. How can the apex court accept that Parliament has the moral authority to set its house in order when many MPs have criminal antecedents?
Indeed India’s political woes are unlimited. Election Commission also feigns helplessness to bring the criminal political class to heel.
Several studies from 2009 to 2019 by Association for Democratic Reforms have shown a sharp increase in the number of criminal candidates contesting Lok Sabha elections. More Lok Sabha MPs involved in criminal cases, many of those against women, are seen in Parliament.
If electoral statistics are anything to go by, BJP leads in giving tickets to “criminal” candidates followed by Congress and BSP.
Onus is on Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi came as a whiff of fresh air to govern a country on the verge of breaking point. Sadly, in his second term, he has not been able to do much in cleaning up the system.
The problem for prime minister is that politics had merged seamlessly with crime and the two now being indistinguishable. When crime and politics combine muscle power is a matter of taste. In Modiji’s first term eight BJP MPs in his Cabinet faced serious cases.
Election Commission over the years became a toothless tiger due to overriding political interference. Yes, it did for a brief fiery period seemed to improve during TN Seshan’s reign as chief election commissioner. Once the Election Commission format was changed things took a turn for the worse.
If the reports of ADR are anything to go by India’s Political System is beyond redemption. ADR also points out how the Election Commission has done nothing to stop the criminalization of politics watching mutely the shady goings-on in the political opera as politicians win by hook or crook.
Thanks to India’s unique democratic setup the chaff is being sold as wheat which means criminalisation of politics is here to stay for a long time to come.
Today FIR or chargesheet does not matter unless the culprit is behind bars. But none is put behind bars because of the luxury given to criminal politicians to appeal in higher courts with the conviction being laid to rest.
Indian polity is a paradise for criminal elements and equally to those who harbour them. A nexus came to exist from the days of Jawaharlal. Later the two merged seamlessly. Today it is difficult to distinguish criminal from a politician.
Political patronage to criminals is a means to subvert democracy and the supremacy of voters to decide their fate. Worse electing criminals has led to the collapse of the criminal justice system affecting the judicial ability to punish the guilty; obviously, a herculean task now for Prime Minister Modi if he intends to clean the Augean stables.
When the five-judge Constitutional bench of CJI Dipak Mishra faced the test of judicial métier to disqualify criminal law-makers contesting the election, the court threw up its hands saying it is “not in a position” to order the disqualification of “tainted” politicians.
The bench took the easier route of listing out directions to curb the problem saying “decriminalisation” of politics has to be legislated by the Parliament itself. It is like asking the thieves to declare themselves as thieves, a classic case of passing the buck.
Criminalisation began with the first known corruption case called the jeep scandal when VK Krishna Menon, then Indian High Commissioner to Britain, ignored protocols and signed in 1948 an Rs 80 lakh contract for the purchase of army jeeps with a foreign firm. Most of the money was paid upfront for the 155 jeeps which once having been brought turned unserviceable. This alerted the fence-sitting politicians with the criminal mindset that the new India can be milked to their advantage.
Menon was a close confidant of Prime Minister Nehru and despite his indictment by Ananthsayanam Ayyangar panel Nehru wouldn’t put his much-vaunted “Satyameva Jayate” into practice. Let alone punishing Menon, he was made Defence Minister in 1959 reposing faith in a man charged with political malfeasance.
Menon’s corruption saga is not about corruption alone. It is the arrogance that flows out of an entitlement culture that being corrupt is part of the ethos. This sorry state of affairs would not have come about if the system was inflicting condign punishment.
More scams followed. LIC or Mudra scandal was one such cited as a forerunner to other notorious financial scams. Industrialist Haridas Mundra made LIC invest Rs 1,26,86,100 in the shares of six of his troubled companies without the approval of LIC’s investment committee. MC Chagla probe report pointed finger at Finance Minister Krishnamachari who had to resign while Mundra, a businessman from Kolkata, was jailed for 22 years.
Mundra case resulted in the punishment of sorts. But successive Congress governments later threw transparency to the wind resulting in scam after scam. Bofors was notorious. Chief Minister AR Antulay collecting donations for his private trust Indira Gandhi Pratisthan Trust or Harshad Mehta swindling the banks to a whopping Rs 4,000 crore were the others. When Harshad swindle came to fore all that the then prime minister Manmohan Singh could do is to call l’affaire Harshad Mehta as system failure.
What does the latest Supreme Court diktat mean to the ordinary common man who has suffered enough from criminalisation and corruption of polity? Do the political parties being forced to list out their candidates’ criminal antecedents on websites offer a ray of hope? What if unsavoury details are uploaded within 48 hours of the nomination being filed? Does that stop criminals turn into law-makers? Can political websites, even if the truth is uploaded, mean India’s electorate becomes wiser?
The fact is the average man is looking for the next meal rather than studying what has been uploaded in the websites.
(The writer is an Ahmedabad-based Senior Journalist)