Politics and crime are inseparable, going by the ever-rising number of criminal cases against politicians in India. Half of Delhi’s newly elected MLAs are facing serious charges, including those of rape and attempt to murder, besides allegations of crimes against women. Over 40 per cent of the Lok Sabha MPs have criminal cases pending against them. Though the law debars convicted politicians from contesting elections, unless the conviction is stayed or suspended, they continue to wield power by holding party posts, forming new outfits and nominating poll candidates. In a fresh initiative to cleanse the electoral system, the Supreme Court has directed all political parties to upload on their respective websites details of criminal cases pending against candidates in the poll fray. The parties would also have to mention the reasons for preferring such tainted persons to those with a spotless record.
The apex court has repeatedly asserted that it’s the voter’s democratic right to know about a candidate’s criminal antecedents, if any. These details help the electors make an informed choice about whom they would or wouldn’t vote for. In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench had held that the nominees would have to declare their criminal cases to the Election Commission (EC) before the polls and had also called for circulating such information through print and electronic media. Subsequently, the EC issued a notification regarding the amended Form-26 (affidavit submitted along with the nomination paper) and the directions for the publication of criminal antecedents. However, parties and contestants are reluctant to do the needful, for the obvious reason that such disclosure could harm their poll prospects.
The onus will be on the EC to enforce the order so as to ensure the transparency of candidature. It can’t change things on the ground as long as it remains a toothless tiger. Merely issuing notices and imposing a token ban on campaigning won’t suffice to stem the rot. The EC should be granted the power to disqualify candidates and de-register parties in case of concealment of vital information and other grave electoral offences. Any ploy to keep the voters in the dark must be dealt with strictly.
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