Cleanup Indian Politics of Criminal MPs
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Corruption and Criminalization are two distinctive features of the Indian politics. The crusade against corruption was loudly articulated by the social activist Anna Hazare however, there is little noise being made by the civil society about the criminalization of Indian politics.
As a matter of fact, one out of four MP in India face criminal charges. There are 162 MPs in the current Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament that has criminal records. Out of these, there are 76 MPs having serious charges against them.
The total number of criminal cases against the MPs is 522 and out of these 275 MPs face serious IPC sections charges against them.
The Bhartiya Janta Party has the highest number of criminal MPs that is 43, out of which 19 have serious criminal cases against them.
The Congress party comes next with 41 MPs having criminal cases, out of which 12 MPs face serious charges against them.
As compared to 2004, the number of MPs with pending criminal cases has gone up. There were 128 MPs with pending criminal cases against them in 2004 Lok Sabha out of which 58 had serious pending criminal cases. There is an increase of about 26% in MPs with pending criminal cases and 31% increase in the number of MPs with serious pending criminal cases.
Obviously, these are not the type of people that should represent we the people of India, but some how these heavy weight crooks have got themselves elected into the Parliament and have become part of the governing apparatus of the country by default.
The comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) have lambasted the government on this declining trend. "Governance is at its lowest ebb. The morale of civil servants is low. The situation is too deleterious for the nation. There is too much at stake for too many in such a situation," CAG reportedly has said.
There has been an erosion of people's faith in government. Their confidence in public institutions has declined. National trust in bureaucracy including the police force has collapsed. The integrity and professionalism of civil servants is being questioned," it adds.
"We have chief ministers who have had to vacate their positions allegedly for graft, on whom courts and other judicial bodies have made adverse pronouncements. We have Members of Parliament who are being indicted by the judiciary for various acts including accepting cash for exercising their vote in Parliament." CAG concludes.
So in such a situation the principal issue is how to make it harder for those with criminal cases to contest elections. Obviously, there is an urgent need of electoral reforms in this country that bars any convicted person from holding office till they are finally acquitted by a court of law.
The current legal position relating to a person convicted of criminal charges is that if the criminal charge, and not just the sentence, is suspended on an appeal, he has the right to contest elections.
One has to understand the nuance in the law and that depends on what order the court gives. If the conviction is suspended, then one can fight elections, if the sentence is suspended, which means no jail, but conviction stands, until such time that the appeal is heard, then one can not fight elections.
Union Law Minister Salman Khursheed has drafted a bill that plugs the loopholes and it could make it impossible for any convicted politician to run for office.
At the moment, those convicted of criminal charges have three months to appeal but that will not be available if the structure of amendments prepared by the Minister goes through the motion and get passed. In such a case the convicted members will be immediately excluded from Parliament.
According to the draft bill if one is convicted, then he can not fight elections, irrespective of what the appeal order is, until he is finally acquitted by the court of law.
Another amendment that is proposed in the draft bill is; crimes committed under section 153 (A), which pertains to creating enmity between communities to be put under the category of heinous crimes, and if that happens, politicians convicted under this clause will not have the right to contest elections.
All this is fine. The big question is will these proposals be acceptable to all the political parties. In fact, there is already a law in place to rein in the corrupt MPs, but many of them have found loopholes into it and have got stay order on their conviction to contest election.
Even the proposed amendment bill is being challenged by some unscrupulous MPs. They have threatened to derail the new bill, if and when, it comes for discussion at the all party meeting.
It’s an argument by those who have something to hide and they will use all kinds of tactics to continue their domination in power.
What is needed is to build consensus around the proposed amended in the electoral process initiated by the Union Law Minister. We have seen with the Jan Lokpal movement that people power can force the government to sit up and make changes.
We need to use the same strategy and generate massive public opinion to clean up Indian politics of its criminal crooks.
Unlike the herculean task of weeding out corruption from the Indian system, the task of getting rid of politician facing criminal charges is much easy.
The redemption of Indian politics from all its banes is long haul and cleaning Indian politics of criminal MPs could be a way forward for good governance and betterment of the country.
We have to watch every move about this bill as it gets drafted, placed before the all party meeting and discussed in the in the Parliament.
Even all this happens we have to built a momentum on the lines of Jan Lokpal movement and send a strong signal to the political party bosses to have a consensus on the draft bill and pass it in this winter session of the Parliament.
The figures quoted above are cited by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW).
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org