M A I N   N E W S

Parliament: Haven for criminals
By H.K. Dua

Gandhi’s great granddaughter Neelam Parikh last week immersed his ashes into the Arabian Sea. The handful of ashes was all that was there of the Mahatma surviving sixty years after his assassination.

Neelam Parikh has done the right thing. A great granddaughter’s keenness to do her bit for the grandfather merits some allowance, but she need not have taken the trouble. Mahatma Gandhi has already been consigned by the nation to the dustbin.

Twice a year — on October 2 and January 30 — he is pulled out, dusted and remembered. The Prime Minister and Gandhis of a different kind drive to Rajghat to pay floral tributes to the man.

That done, they trek back to the mundane world of political India, where Mahatma Gandhi lends name to roads, some neglected schools without teachers, or jhuggi-jhonpri colonies without toilets or odd welfare schemes meant for photo-ops.

Front pages of newspapers these days are adorned by such headlines as “Absconding MP Atiq Ahmed held for murder”, “Sadhu Yadav finds sanctuary in Parliament”, “Shahabuddin, MP, sentenced for life for murder”, “Pappu Yadav in jail”.

Atiq Ahmed, who was arrested in Delhi on Friday, incidentally represents Phoolpur in Uttar Pradesh — the constituency once represented by none else than Jawaharlal Nehru.

Only a few of the luminaries on the crime register have been hauled up during the past several years. In Gandhi’s India, the list of criminals who have been voted to Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies is rather long and formidable. None touches the list.

No minister at the Centre or in the States is feeling uncomfortable sitting next to ministers with crime woven into their biodata.

There are as many as 40 such honourable members in the present Lok Sabha alone having the right to pass any law, defeat any legislative measure, prop up or pull down a government of their liking or disliking. The situation in most State Legislative Assemblies is worse.

In the previous UP Assembly, there were as many as 175 members with impressive crime records in their history sheet, who helped in bringing down or supporting governments according to their convenience.

Bihar never likes to be left behind Uttar Pradesh — certainly not in areas where criminals shape governance and politics inside and outside a Legislative Assembly.

The politics in the nation’s two States, which send almost 25 per cent of MPs to the Lok Sabha, is often shaped by forging alliances with the local mafia.

Mayawati must be feeling pleased that Atiq Ahmed belongs to Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party. She would not like to look at her own ranks and check their credentials. When he was in power, Mulayam Singh would not mind pulling a friend like Raja Bhaiya out of jail and rushing him to Raj Bhawan for taking oath as a minister.

It is simply not easy to arrest a Member of Parliament for crime. It took 14 years to send Shahabuddin to jail for a murder case; and if Mulayam Singh comes back to power Atiq Ahmed might be taken out of jail and sworn in as a minister by the Governor. Pappu Yadavs can still flourish in most states and do their business with impunity.

In most ministers’ offices Gandhi’s portrait provides the backdrop. Generally, it is a smiling picture mocking at the inane proceedings going on there.

Ordinarily, the situation when criminals and local thugs can find their way into Parliament and state assemblies should worry the leaders of all political parties. But they have become insensitive to the danger. The political leaders can’t be accused of suffering from a sense of guilt for giving tickets to enable criminals to sit in the august chambers and make laws for a nation of a billion people.

Political parties give them a share of tickets in exchange for help in winning elections with their money and muscle power. Criminals find safety, status and political clout sitting in Parliament. In any case, life in the law-making chambers is better than a life under the jail wardens.

Parliament still has the power to pass a law banning all candidates against whom a court has framed charges from contesting elections. The Supreme Court wants it; the Election Commission wants it; and so do the people.

The politicians simply don’t. The reason: who would help them mobilise voters when the day of reckoning arrives.

“Power Now; Reforms Later”, seems to be the settled policy of successive governments.

In a year’s time, the life of the present Lok Sabha will come to an end. If the politicians mean what they say a bill can be passed in the coming session to ensure that criminals do not ever enter Parliament’s portals. The enactment of such a law will be a test of the honesty of all political parties. They should not fail the test. But it looks like they will fail.

Most political parties think they have done their duty to the country simply by installing a huge Gandhi statue in front of the main entrance to Parliament House. The statue attracts attention from only occasional visitors to the public galleries, not from the Members of Parliament. They just pass by.



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