Disqualifying tainted members not enough to clean up politics: SC

The never-ending nexus between criminals, politicians, police and bureaucrats continue to erode the sanctity of rule of law and weaken the roots of democracy, writes MUDIT MATHUR

“The lawbreakers should not become law makers and there cannot be a paradise for people with criminal antecedents in the Parliament or the State Legislatures,” was the theme of one Public Interest Litigation (PIL) but the constitutional bench of top court had ruled, “Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to lay down disqualification for membership of the candidates with criminal antecedents as court cannot legislate law.” It endorsed the stand of Election Commission of India.

The Supreme Court observed, “Rapid crimina- lisation of politics cannot be arrested by merely disqualifying tainted members of legislatures but should begin by cleansing political parties.” However, the never-ending nexus between criminals, politicians, police and bureaucrats continued to erode the sanctity of rule of law weakening the roots of democracy.

The concern is not new as the Union government had constituted a high level committee under Union Home Secretary NN Vohra after 1993 Mumbai blasts to take stock of all available information about the activities of crime Syndicates/Mafia organisations which had developed links with and were being protected by the Government functionaries and political personalities. The Secretary Revenue and Directors of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were also its members besides Convenor Joint Secretary of Home Ministry.

Despite the apex court’s anxiety the ground situation is becoming bad to worst. The Lok Sabha recorded alarming increase in incidence of criminals in politics. In 2004, there were 24 per cent Members of Parliament who had pending criminal cases against them. The percentage rose to 30 per cent in 2009, 34 per cent in 2014 and 44 per cent in 2019. In the 17Lok Sabha out of 542 winners 236 (44 per cent) declared criminal cases pending against them. Out of these 236 MPs 161 (30 per cent) MPs are allegedly involved in heinous crimes. 19 Members declared cases related to crimes against women whereas 3 MPs declared rape charges (one each from BJP, INC and YSRCP).

In 2017 the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly housed 36 per cent Members of Legislative Assembly who had pending criminalcases. In the 403 member house 144 members have pending criminal cases out of which 108 (27 per cent) members with declared serious criminal cases. Earlier in 2012 the percentage of winner with declared criminal cases was higher as out of 403 members 185 (46 per cent) had taints of criminal charges whereas 88 (22 per cent) were facing charges of heinous offences.The situation was no better in 2007 when 142(35 per cent) members had pending criminal cases out of them 75 (19 per cent) were facing charges of heinous offences.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) released an analysis of MPs/MLAs with Declared Cases Related to Crimes against Women wherein shocking revelations emerged,needingurgentattention of the lawmakers tocleanse its house being temple of democracy. The report mentioned that out of 756 MPs and 4063 MLAs analysed with declared criminal cases, 76 MPs/MLAs have declared cases related to crimes against women.Among these 76 MPs/MLAs with declared cases related to Crimes against women, 58 are MLAs and 18 are MPs.

In last 5 years, there are total 572 candidates with declared criminal cases related to crime against women, have contested in Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and assembly elections. None of these candidates have been convicted. 410 candidates analysed who had declared cases related to crimes against women, were given tickets by recognized political parties. Among thesecandidates, 89 candidates were given tickets by parties for Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha elections and 321 candidates for state assemblies’ elections.162 independent candidates analysed with declared cases related to crimes against women had contested for Lok/Rajya and state assemblies’ elections in last five years. This clearly depicts that the political parties are not concerned about the issue of crime against women. Appallingly, the political parties whichare led by women, such as INC, BSP and AITC have been fielding candidates with declared cases related to crime against women.

The report highlights that all major political parties give tickets to candidates with cases of crimes against women especially rape and therefore hindering the safety and dignity of women as citizens. These are serious cases where charges have been framed and cognizance has been taken by the courts. These figures reveal the gravemalaise and travesty in our political system where the rich and powerful MPs/MLAs with cases related to crime against women are able to subvert the system, use their influence to interfere with the police investigations, use the judicial delays to their advantage and in some cases continuously harass the victims and their families.

In the backdrop of elaborate analysis, ADR made specific recommendations that candidates with a criminal background should be debarred from contesting elections. Political parties should disclose the criteria on which candidates are given tickets. Court cases against MPs and MLAs should be fast tracked and decided upon in a time bound manner with court-monitored professional and thorough investigation by Police and voters should desist from electing candidates with self-declared cases related to crime against women and other heinous crimes.

The disturbing trend speak volumes of sincerity with which our parliamentarians could legislate stringent law to disqualify members of parliament as no political party offers an explanation as to why candidates with pending criminal cases are selected as candidates to contest elections.

The Supreme Court had ordered in February this year that, political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections along with the reasons that goaded them to field suspected criminals over decent people. The published information on the criminal antecedents of a candidate should be detailed and include the nature of their offences, charges framed against him, the court concerned, case number, etc.

“The information should be published in a local as well as a national newspaper as well as the parties’ social media handles. It should mandatorily be published either within 48 hours of the selection of candidates or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier,” the apex court directed.

A political party should explain to the public through their published material about how the “qualifications or achievements or merit” of a candidate, charged with a crime, impressed it enough to cast aside the smear of his criminal background. A party would have to give reasons to the voter that it was not the candidate’s “mere winnability at the polls” that guided its decision to give him ticket to contest elections. All these reforms could not move ahead due to poor legislative intent and political will to cleanse the system as elements of criminalisation overturned all good intentions of national interest.

The high-level NN Vohra Committee recommen- dations assumed national importance as it contained the sensitive inputs from top intelligence and investigation agencies on the activities/linkages of the Dawood Ibrahim gang, consequent to the bomb blasts in Bombay in March 1993.

The inputs of various reports revealed the unholy nexus, as it was apparent, that the activities of Memon Brothers and Dawood Ibrahim had progressed over the years, leading to the establishment of a powerful network. This could not have happened without these elements having been protected by the functionaries of the concerned Government departments, especially Customs, Income Tax, Policeand others. The Committee undertook extensive exerciseto identify the linkages and to also determine how such information could be timely collected and acted upon in the future with utmost secrecy with a network of top officers.

The committee discovered that pan-India crime Syndicates have become a law unto themselves. Even in the smaller towns and rural areas, muscle-men have become the order of the day. Hired assassins have become a part of these organisations. The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians has come out clearly in various parts of the country. The existing criminal justice system, which was essentially designed to deal with the individual offences/crimes, is unable todeal with the activities of the Mafia; the provisions of law in regard economic offences are weak; there are insurmountable legal difficulties in attaching/confiscation of the property acquired through Mafia activities.

Intelligence and Investigation agencies also stated before the Vohra Committee that there has been a rapid spread and growth of criminal gangs, armed senas, drug mafias, smuggling gangs, drug peddlers and economic lobbies in the country which have, over the years, developed an extensive network of contacts with the bureaucrats/Government functionaries at the local levels, politicians, media persons and strategically located individuals in the non-State sector. Some of these Syndicates also have international linkages, including the foreign intelligence agencies.

Serious concern about certain States such as Bihar, Haryana and UP were raised where these gangs enjoy the patronage of local level politicians, cutting across party lines and the protection of governmental functionaries. Some political leaders become the leaders of these gangs or armed senas over the years, get themselves elected to local bodies, state assemblies and the national parliament. Resultantly, such elements have acquired considerable political clout seriously jeopardizing the smooth functioning of the administration and the safety of life and property of the common man, causing a sense of despair and alienation among the people.

The big smuggling Syndicates, having international linkages, have spread into and infected the various economic and financial activities, including hawala transactions, circulation of black money and operations of a vicious parallel economy causing serious damage to the economic fibre of the country. These Syndicates have acquired substantial financial and muscle power and social respectability and have successfully corrupted the government machinery at all levels and wield enough influence to make the task of Investigating and Prosecuting agencies extremely difficult; even the members of the Judicial system have not escaped the embrace of the Mafia.

Certain elements of the Mafia have shifted to narcotics, drugs and weapon smuggling and established narco-terrorism networks, especially in the States of J&K, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The cost of contesting elections has thrown the politicians into the lap of these elements and led to a grave compromise by officials of the preventive/detective systems. The virus has spread to almost all the centres in the country; the coastal and the Border States have been particularly affected.

The Bombay bomb blast case and the communal, riots in Surat and Ahmedabad have demonstrated how the Indian underworld has been exploited by the Pak ISI and the latter’s networkin UAE to cause sabotage, subversion and communal tension in various parts of the country. The investigations into the Bombay bomb blast cases have revealed extensive linkages of the underworld in the various governmental agencies, political circles, business sector and the film world.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised the issue of criminalisation of politics on numerous occasions promising nation to cleanse the system. At a rally in Etah in Uttar Pradesh during his historic election campaign of 2014 — “Achhe Din Aane Wale Hain” (Good days are coming), he had declared that he would do away with criminalisation in politics and punish the criminals cutting across party lines.

“We must remove criminalisation of politics, and merely giving lectures won’t help. I am determined that after the elections are over, whosoever is elected from any political colour, and whichever candidates have cases registered against them, they will be sorted out and a separate list will be made. And, we will ask the Supreme Court to finish off their cases within a year, and with this process, the criminalisation of politics can be cleansed. If I do not take such steps, then, this will continue,” said beaming Modi, while seeking people’s support to his vision.

He escalated his resolve when in a rally in Allahabad and declared, “The next parliament would be cleaned by punishing the guilty. The vacant seats will be filled through by-elections and the same methodology will be followed to clean the assemblies of various states.”

The menace of corruption on high places of governance and criminalisation of polity posed a grave threat to the survival of democracy. Like a termite it is hollowing the national life and moral values. The apex court and election commission have pushed the ball of electoral reforms towards the union government to check the entry of criminal elements in the domain of law making and enact stringent law to cleanse its house which is considered as sacred temple of democracy-Rule of the people.