From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not Much
Mains level : Paper 2- Making the electoral process free, fair and clean.
- The Supreme Court has strictly ordered 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.
- It ordered political parties to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission of India within 72 hours or risk contempt of court action.
- 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 judgment is applicable to parties both at Central and State levels.
Information should be detailed
- 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.
- A political party should explain to the public through their published material 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” which guided its decision to give him a ticket to contest elections.
Why such a move?
- It appeared from the last four general elections that there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics.
- In 2004, 24% of the MPs had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them, SC observed.
- The judgment was based on a contempt petition about the general disregard shown by political parties to a 2018 Constitution Bench judgment (Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India).
- In this judgment (2018), this court was cognizant of the increasing criminalisation of politics in India and the lack of information about such criminalisation among the citizenry”, SC observed.
- The immediate provocation is the finding that 46% of MPs have criminal records.
- The number might be inflated as many politicians tend to be charged with relatively minor offences —“unlawful assembly” and “defamation”.
- The real worry is that the current cohort of Lok Sabha MPs has the highest (29%) proportion of those with serious declared criminal cases compared to its recent predecessors.
Why are such tainted candidates inducted by political parties?
- Such candidates with serious records seem to do well despite their public image, largely due to their ability to finance their own elections and bring substantive resources to their respective parties.
- Some voters tend to view such candidates through a narrow prism: of being able to represent their interests by hook or by crook.
- Others do not seek to punish these candidates in instances where they are in contest with other candidates with similar records.
Significance of the move
- Either way, these unhealthy tendencies in the democratic system reflect a poor image of the nature of India’s state institutions and the quality of its elected representatives.
- The move signified the court’s alarm at the unimpeded rise of criminals, often facing heinous charges like rape and murder, encroaching into the country’s political and electoral scenes.
- While formally, the institutions of the state are present and subject to the electoral will of the people, substantively, they are still relatively weak and lackadaisical in governance and delivery of public goods.
- This has allowed cynical voters to elect candidates despite their dubious credentials and for their ability to work on a patronage system.
- While judicial pronouncements on making it difficult for criminal candidates to contest are necessary, only enhanced awareness and increased democratic participation could create the right conditions for the decriminalization of politics.