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The Criminalisation of Politics:

The continuous erosion of politics over decades, with the decline intensifying in the last 16 years, is an ever-present silent crisis.

As politics dominate the bureaucracy, and reins in business, civil society and the media, we need governance that is free of the “criminal” virus. Capability alone isn't enough. It's also necessary to have a commitment to public service. Even though the British were capable, we did not want them. It is no longer about a single political party, but rather about the political system as a whole.

In his statement on November 26, 1949, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly of India, said, "If the people chosen are capable and have good character and integrity, they will be able to make the best of a bad Constitution. If they don't have these, the Constitution won't be able to aid the country "

The Severity Of The Problem

Criminal elements have been there in India's political process, both as candidates and as party workers.

According to data analysed by the Association for Democratic Reforms, 43% of current Lok Sabha MPs have declared criminal cases against them, with 29% declaring serious criminal offences. Criminal proceedings have been filed against 24 per cent of Rajya Sabha MPs, with 12 per cent of those filing serious criminal charges.

2020 Judgement

A two-judge Bench of Supreme Court recently delivered a judgement on the contempt petitions regarding the criminalisation of politics in India and the non-compliance of the directions of a Constitution Bench of Supreme Court in Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v. Union of India and Anr (2018) case.

The Court pointed out that political parties provide no explanation for why candidates with pending criminal proceedings are chosen in the first place.

The following six directives were issued by the court: (though these directions were given in 2018, they were not followed by the parties).

  • Political parties must post comprehensive information on candidates with pending criminal cases on their websites, along with the reasons for their selection.

  • The reasons for selection shall be based on the qualifications, accomplishments, and merit of the candidate in question, rather than on "winnability" at the polls.

  • This information must also be published in one local vernacular newspaper and one national daily, as well as on the political party's official social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.

  • This information must be made public within 48 hours of the candidate's selection or two weeks before the first deadline for filing nominations, whichever comes earlier.

  • Within 72 hours of the said candidate's selection, the political party in question must submit a report to the Election Commission demonstrating compliance with these directions.

  • If a political party fails to file a compliance report, the Election Commission will notify the Supreme Court of the non-compliance.

The way ahead:

"Democracy cannot thrive unless individuals who express their choice are prepared to choose properly," says Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest-serving US president. As a result, education is the true bulwark of democracy." This mirrors Gandhi's statement about the importance of voter education. This is a demand-side solution, and civic society bears the brunt of the responsibility.

More democratic and transparent political parties may be the most important structural or supply-side remedy required here. We will not have transparent, democratic governments if we have opaque, dictatorial political parties — a requirement for successful administration in the twenty-first century. It will take a lot of public pressure to get these reforms passed.

Some civic society strategic options A strong objective or vision is required in civil society. People are more concerned with day-to-day difficulties than constructing a 'ideal' democracy, according to the ADR study. One option is an iterative process in which civil society listens to what people desire and then 'educates' them. When a crisis or a swindle occurs, public outrage can be immediately mobilised. It also fades swiftly, leaving little trace of the work done. Building a positive vision takes time and effort, but it has the potential to be considerably more stable and long-lasting. "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves," Thomas Jefferson said, echoing Gandhi and Roosevelt, "and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion."

  • vigilant Election commission

  • Responsible and accountable political parties and leaders

  • aware citizens

  • Efficient laws and effective implementation of the same

  • Media can play an effective role in generating awareness


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