India can boast to be the world’s largest democracy, but cannot stake a claim on being the world's greatest democracy. The rising number of politicians accused of criminal cases in Indian politics is not a new thing, but what is astonishing is a lack of effective action. To curb the persistent increase of criminal elements in Indian politics, and more specifically the legislature, the Supreme Court of India has given out a verdict aimed at cleansing the Indian politics.
The two-judge bench of the Apex Court gave a list of six mandatory directions to political parties which are:-
- It shall be mandatory for political parties at all levels, to upload on their website detailed information regarding individuals with pending criminal cases (including the nature of the offences, and relevant particulars such as whether charges have been framed, the concerned Court, the case number etc.) who have been selected as candidates, along with the reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates.
- The reasons as to selection shall be with reference to the qualifications, achievements, and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere "winnability" at the polls.
- This information shall also be published in a) one local vernacular newspaper, and one national newspaper, and b) on the official social media platforms of the political party, including Facebook & Twitter.
- These details shall be published within 48 hours of the selection of the candidate or not less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
- The political party concerned shall then submit a report of compliance with these directions with the Election Commission within 72 hours of the selection of the said candidate.
- If a political party fails to submit such compliance report with the Election Commission, the ECI shall bring such non-compliance by the political party concerned to the notice of the Supreme Court as being in contempt of this Court's orders/directions.
This verdict came in consideration of the increasing number of candidates who are accused in any criminal case. In 2009, 30% of the members in the Lok Sabha had criminal cases against them, it was 34% in 2014, but the 17th Lok Sabha in 2019 saw an unprecedented increase of these criminal elements to 43%. A far more grim picture is that in 2019 general elections, 13% of the candidates contesting election were charged with heinous crimes that include murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, rape and other crimes against women. The picture of Indian politics seems clearly polluted and it seems political parties don’t seem to care much, as they continue to field candidates with criminal charges.
The Representation of the people act, 1951 already asks candidates to submit an affidavit with details of the cases pending against them. What this verdict does is forces the parties to justify their decisions, which they previously shrieked of by hiding behind the due process of law, and statements like “let the law take its own course”. Beyond that, it also allows for public discourse as more voters know about the candidates they are voting for. It also allows for more transparency between voters and their representatives, allowing voters to make a more informed choice.
Criminalization of Indian Politics is definitely a real thing which is something India has realized over the last decade. It is definitely a step forward to root out a problem which has been ingrained into the Indian political system.
Should judicial activism always direct executive to take action as we see the SC almost always pushing the executive inertia? Also, is this verdict enough as we clearly see a strong need for further legislation by the executive to control this parasitic problem?
The political parties seemed to have welcomed the top court’s verdict with open arms. Congress is urging other parties to upload the information on their websites, and social media handles, and BJP is suggesting that the verdict helps electoral democracy.
Whether these comments are just theatrics or out of actual concern for Indian politics and governance will only be understood in the upcoming elections when the parties field candidates.