By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2021-08-12 05:50:33
The Supreme Court came down heavily on the government and all political parties for not heeding its fiats on reversing criminalization of politics. In two separate judgments, two benches of the apex court fined, made the rules stricter and disallowed the executive from withdrawing criminal cases against MPs, MLAs and MLCs without the permission of the high court in the respective state. It reflects poorly on the political setup in the country if the courts have to regularly intervene to uphold the public interest while political parties refuse to clean up the electoral system despite express orders and guidance of the highest court in the land.
The problem is that for the political parties, this has developed into a kind of disguised brotherhood. Despite ideological and other differences which keeps them at each others' throats at most times, all political parties - without exception - are united when it comes to either giving tickets to criminals or withdrawing cases against party MPs, MLAs and MLCs by misusing the provisions of Section 321 of the CrPC. What is even worse is that they flagrantly violate the September 2020 Supreme Court order directing them to prominently advertising the criminal antecedent of candidates at least two weeks before they file nominations. The apex court fined 9 political parties up to Rs 5 lakh for not complying with the order since the Bihar elections. But will this grossly inadequate punishment deter them from not ignoring the order in future?
A different bench took up the case of governments withdrawing criminal cases against party MPs, MLAs and MLCs. This is being done in all states by governments of all political parties. The Kerala High Court had recently cancelled one such decision by the LDF government in the state which had withdrawn cases against MLAs for protesting inside the assembly and damaging public property when the UDF government headed by Oomen Chandy was in power. The BJP government in Karnataka had also withdrawn criminal cases against 61 such legislators. The court has taken a dim view of this and has ordered that due process must be followed. The states will have to henceforth take permission from the high court before dropping such cases.
It is necessary for all political parties to come together to rid Indian electoral politics of the increasing dependence on money and muscle power. They must realize that in a level playing field, no party will lose and the people will gain. If all parties are prevented from fielding tainted candidates they will all gain by fielding better candidates. But none of the parties are agreeable to this. Should the public then see their vehement opposition to correcting the course as proof that criminals have completely taken over the parties and the other leaders are just a front for them? Prime Minister Modi says economic reforms are being carried out through conviction and not compulsion. But where does this conviction go when it comes to cleaning up electoral politics?