“If the people who are elected are capable and men of character and integrity, then they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country”. – “Dr. Rajendra Prasad”
The criminalization of politics is a serious problem in our electoral system. Over the years, there have been an increasing number of cases in which Serious allegations ranging from criminal misuse of public office, corruption, impropriety, and other noxious activities have been leveled against politicians of all parties. An estimated 76 of the 543 MPs elected in 2009 face serious criminal charges such as murder, rape, dacoity, and other electoral, economic or criminal cases. Several of these cases do not reach their logical conclusion for a variety of reasons, including attempts to circumvent the law, witnesses turning hostile, untrustworthy law enforcement, and sometimes undue pressure on the judiciary.
The National Election Watch and Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) have analyzed 2021elections, the self-sworn affidavits of 808 out of 822 Winning Candidates in the Union Territory of Puducherry and 4 states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal.
- 419(52%) Winning Candidates with Criminal Cases.
- 241(30%) Winning Candidates with Serious Criminal Cases.
- 535(66%) Millionaire Winning Candidates.
As published in The Hindu on 25/08/2021 Over 120 lawmakers including 51 sitting & former are accused of money laundering being probed by the enforcement directly while 121 others have been booked by the CBI for various criminal offenses.
In Chief Election Commissioner v. Jan Chaukidar (People’s Watch) the Supreme Court has held that a person who has no right to vote by virtue of provisions of Sub-section (5) of Section 62 of the Representation of People’s Act,1951 is not an “elector” and is therefore not qualified to contest the election to the House of the people or the Legislative Assembly of a State.
In a PIL, the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court on July 11, 2013 stayed with immediate effect rallies based on caste in Uttar Pradesh. It also issued notices to the Central and State Governments, the Election Commission of India, and four major political parties in the State asking them to present their point of view on caste-based politics. The petitioner had prayed ban on caste-based rallies on grounds that they are against the spirit of the
Constitution states that all caste and communities are equal and there will be no discrimination on castes and religious lines. Caste-based rallies create enmity among castes and promote caste discrimination. Communalism and casteism are problems of India that continued even during the British period, indeed, from ancient times.
On July 5, 2013, the Supreme Court observed that Freebies promised by political parties in their election manifestos to lure voters shake the roots of free and fair polls. The Court directed the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines for regulating contents of manifestos in the Model Code of Conduct as election manifesto is directly associated with the election process. The Court said: “Although the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as corrupt practice under Section 123 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies like laptop, radio, television, grinders and mixers, electric fans, gold coins undoubtedly, influences voters and shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree. The judgment can have wide ramifications and can put a curb on political parties for promising different types of freebies for wooing voters.
NOT IN RTI’s PURVIEW
The political parties argue that they receive only minimal support from the government and therefore they are not “public authority” as defined under the RTI Act. The RTI Act cannot demand that the public authority provide information of which no record exists and also that records only be maintained which some law, regulation or rule makes mandatory. Political parties have protection under Section 8(1) (d) of the RTI Act that among other things, exempts information that would harm a party’s competitive position. But people might have a right to know whether the party has a criterion for selecting candidates? Or how much a particular party expends in general elections and from where does that money come? Obviously, a political party can legally refuse to answer any of these questions on the justifiable plea that it does not maintain records or have no norms on these matters because it is not required to.
FAIR AND FREE ELECTIONS
Incurring unauthorized expenditure in elections is an unfair practice. In Kanwar Lal Gupta v. Amarnath Chawla, the Supreme Court desired a ceiling on the expenses of the political party coupled with an obligation to file returns, and such accounts are to be investigated by independent machinery. The Court analyzed the objective behind limiting the expenditure in law and said that it should be open for any individual or any political party, howsoever small to be able to contest election on a footing of equality.
In a landmark judgment, Common Cause Registered Society v. Union of India the Supreme Court had an occasion to examine the provisions of Section 77 (1) Explanation (1) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, Section 13A of the Income Tax Act 1961, Section 293A of the Companies Act,1956 along with Article 324 of the Constitution of India, all of these have bearing on the aspects of money powers in elections. The Court has made it clear that any expenditure incurred or authorized by a political party in respect of general propaganda or the propagation of its election manifesto should be not be considered an expenditure incurred in connection with the election of the candidates belonging to the party of which he is the contestant.
ONE VOTER, ONE VOTE, ONE VALUE
Adult suffrage or equal right to vote is a basic principle of free and fair elections. Articles 325 and 326 of the Constitution constitute a complete code that contains certain specific elements such as general electoral roll, and equal right to vote. For every territorial constituency, there is one general electoral roll wherein no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in the electoral roll on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or any of them25. Ideals of a democratic republic, political justice, and sovereignty reside in the people and particularly secular democracy seems to be the primary source of universal franchise. As well as modern democracies have established equality of suffrage as a basic principle of election. Parliament of India has introduced the principle of one voter-one vote-one value.
The Vohra Committee Report gives enough hints to come to the conclusion that the criminalization of politics and corruption in high levels is destroying the very system and edifice of our parliamentary democracy, political authorities, civil servants, and even the judiciary. The Report has identified broad categories of crime and the persons who are involved in it and has gone to the extent of identifying the States where mafia activities are taking place. The most condemnatory part of the Report is that, it says that “the network of mafias is virtually running a parallel Government pushing the State apparatus into irrelevance”. The big smuggling syndicates having international linkages have spread into and infected various economic and financial activities.
They have acquired substantial, financial and muscle power and have successfully corrupted the Government machinery at all levels and yield enough influence to make the task of investigating and prosecuting agencies extremely difficult.