India is one of the largest democracies in the world and in this country we follow the concept of the universal adult franchise which means a person above 18 years of age has a right to vote irrespective of their caste, colour, creed, religion, or gender. We elect our representative by giving a vote but what if we have to choose our representative among the persons with severe criminal records. In India, nowadays criminalization of politics becomes very common which means a person participating in an election is having a criminal record. This is the biggest irony out here where the ‘lawbreakers become the lawmakers’. This disrupts the roots of democracy where it is difficult to become even a peon with criminal records. On the other hand, people become ministers and represent the country with criminal records.
The number of politicians with criminal records is increasing day by day, which is a serious concern for the public. The data was provided by the Association of Democratic reform [ADR] reports in which it was stated that the elected Lok Sabha candidates in the year 2019 out of the 43% had criminal charges against them which is a nearly 26% increase concerning the elections of 2014.
The report by the ADR in collaboration with the national eye watch in which it was published that in the year 2009, 543 members were elected for Lok Sabha elections out of which 162 (30%) of them had criminal charges and 76 i.e 14% had severe criminal charges against them like murder, rape, kidnapping, etc. Also, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 539 candidates were elected out of which 233 (43%) had criminal charges against them and 159 i.e 29% had serious criminal charges against them.
LAWS IN INDIA AGAINST THE CRIMINALISATION OF POLITICS
Some articles in our Indian constitution are against the criminalization of politics and those articles are
- ARTICLE 327
Article 327 of the Indian constitution gives the right to the parliament to make provisions on the subject matter related to elections for either house of the parliament or for the legislature of a state.1
- ARTICLE 102
Article 102 of the Indian constitution deals with the disqualification of members from the elections of either house of the parliament on certain grounds which are mentioned under this article.2
- ARTICLE 191
Article 191 of the Indian constitution also deals with the disqualification of members from the election but from the legislative assembly or legislative council of the state if they fall under the category mentioned under the article.3
EFFECTS OF CRIMINALISATION OF POLITICS
- AGAINST THE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS PRINCIPLE
The candidates often use their muscle and money power which means they have the ability to finance their own elections and largely due to public image they try to gain votes. This demeans the principle of free and fair election as it limits the choice of electing a deserving candidate.
- AFFECTING GOOD GOVERNANCE
The main issue is that lawbreakers become lawmakers, which undermines the democratic process’ ability to offer decent government. The structure of India’s state institutions and the quality of its elected representatives are reflected in these undesirable democratic tendencies.
- AFFECTING UPRIGHTNESS AMONG PUBLIC SERVANTS
Corruption caused during elections due to the circulation of money during and after elections causes disruption in the working of public servants and thus, results in increasing corruption.
- CAUSES SOCIAL DISHARMONY
Electing representatives who have a criminal record creates a bad precedent for the youth and also causes social disharmony and violence in society. This demeans the meaning of democracy in the eyes of the general public.
REASONS FOR CRIMINALISATION OF POLITICS
- LACK OF POLITICAL WILL
Political parties don’t show any will or interest in curbing the criminalization of politics. Until now, efforts made towards this issue were made by the supreme court and the election commission of India. However, parliament must revise the Representation of the People (RPA) Act 19514, which governs the disqualification of candidates who have been charged with serious crimes and have been found guilty in court.
- LACK OF ENFORCEMENT
Making strict laws and regulations or passing judgment will not affect much until and unless implemented properly.
- NARROW SELF INTEREST
Sometimes general public may focus on caste or religion criteria for casting vote and they may not be interested in checking the history or criminal record of the candidate. So, publishing criminal reports of the candidates is not enough to curb the criminalization of politics.
- USE OF MUSCLE AND MONEY POWER
Candidates gain votes due to their muscle power and money power, despite having serious criminal records they use their identity and finance their election to gain votes. Furthermore, when all contesting candidates have criminal backgrounds, voters are sometimes left with no options.
UNION OF INDIA VS ASSOCIATION FOR DEMOCRATIC REFORMS AND ANR.
The association for democratic reforms filed a petition in the Delhi high court for the recommendations on how to make elections fairer, and transparent. The law commission produced some recommendations which are that the candidates should disclose their criminal history, educational qualifications, financial details, and other personal information on their websites. After this, the union of India challenged the petition in the supreme court of India that the high court voters did not have a right to such information. The court held that the right to know is a derived right from the right to freedom of expression and speech. Because such rights include the right to have opinions and collect information in order to be appropriately educated in formulating and distributing those opinions throughout the election process, the public has a right to know about candidates running for election. The Court elaborated on this argument by stating that a good democracy strives for an “aware citizenry,” and that any kind of misinformation or lack of information will result in a “uniformed citizenry,” rendering democracy a charade.5
PEOPLE’S UNION OF CIVIL LIBERTIES [PUCL] V. UNION OF INDIA
The people’s union of civil liberties [PUCL] challenged the validity of section 338 of the representation of people’s act, 1951 which says that a candidate is not allowed to disclose any personal information. The PUCL contended that it was a violation of Article 19(1)(a). the apex court held that the candidates should provide information about themselves to the voters. The basic information provided by the candidates can affect the decision of the voters. Furthermore, freedom of expression encompasses not just verbal and written communication but also voting. The expression of opinion through the final act of casting a ballot is part of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1), even though the right to vote is not a fundamental right in and of itself. The apex court concluded that section 33B of the representation of people act, 1951 was unconstitutional.6
LILY THOMAS VS UNION OF INDIA
In this case, a writ petition was filed by the Lily Thomas and an advocate Satya Narain Shukla before the apex court for the purpose of challenging section 8(4) of the Representation of the people’s act which safeguards the convicted politicians from any kind of election disqualification based on pending appeals against their conviction in the appellate court. This petition was not allowed for 9 years and later, in July 2013 the supreme court finally passed a verdict in which it was held that the MP and MLA whether they are elected or not elected would be disqualified if they have criminal allegations against them by the trial court and the saving clause under section 8(4) will not be applicable.7
PUBLIC INTEREST FOUNDATION V. UNION OF INDIA
In this case, in the year 2011, the petition was filed by the BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay and the NGO public interest foundation before the apex court to seek directions regarding the criminalization of politics and debarring them to contesting elections. The issue was whether the court can put any restriction on membership of parliament beyond article 102(a) to (d) and parliament’s legislation under Article 102(e). the court held that the debarring candidate to contest the election solely on the basis that they have a criminal record is wrong. The court directed them to fill out the form circulated by the election commission and the form must contain all the information. The candidate has to notify the party regarding criminal proceedings if he or she has against them while buying a ticket of a specific party. The political party has to update their website and to put regarding any criminal proceedings are pending against them and also make them publish in the newspapers and also to make huge publicity on electronic media.8
The supreme court of India passed a judgment related to the criminalization of politics recently in February 2020 in which it was held that the political party has to update their websites regarding criminal history against the candidates and such information has to be published in even local and national newspaper. In October 2020, Bihar was the first election that followed the supreme court guidelines. This was done to preserve the purity of elections in the country and to provide voters with a fair choice to choose.
Till today what has been done regarding curbing the criminalization of politics has been done by the supreme court and the election commission. The parliament has to show some interest to make changes in the representation of people’s acts. The alone judiciary will not be enough effective in dealing with this issue.
In conclusion, the information regarding criminal history, financial authority, and educational qualifications of the candidates should be made available to the voters. So, that they can make the right choice and the elections conducted could be fair and transparent and the voters were given fair choice to choose candidates from them. Though information should be provided to the voters and it is important also but there should be a thin line between information provided to the voters and the rights of the candidates.
- The Indian constitution, 1950, art.327
- The Indian constitution, 1950, art. 102
- The Indian constitution, 1950, art. 191
- The Representation of people act, 1951.
- Union of India v. Association for democratic reforms and anr, (2002) 5 SCC 294.
- People’s union of civil liberties V. Union of India, [WP (C) NO. 196/2001]
- Lily Thomas v. Union of India, [WP (C) NO. 231/2005]
- Public interest foundation V. Union of India, [WP (C) NO. 536 OF 2011]
This article is written by Prerna Pahwa, a student of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.