The preamble of our constitution aims to provide ‘political justice’ to the people. When the criminal elements are becoming a part of the legislature, then securing any form of justice, be it social, economic or political, is a hollow promise. The sovereign of India is crippled by these criminal elements who uses threat, intimidation, violence and even sexual assault to win the election. Over the last two decades, the influence of criminals in the political arena has shown a tremendous increase. Earlier these criminal elements used to influence the elections from outside but now they have become a part of the political system by contesting the elections themselves. Once an accused is elected during the trial, he uses his position and power to dilute the case or pressurizes the government to withdraw the prosecution against him or her. All recent committees on politics and electoral reform have observed the criminalization of our political system almost unanimously. Criminalization of politics has many forms, but perhaps the most alarming among them is the significant number of elected representatives with criminal charges pending against them. The topic of electoral reforms has been taken up by numerous government committees in the recent past, including but not limited to:
Ø Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms (1990)
Ø Vohra Committee Report (1993)
Ø Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections (1998)
Ø Law Commission Report on Reform of the Electoral Laws (1999)
Ø National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2001)
Ø Election Commission of India
– Proposed Electoral Reforms (2004)
Ø The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008)
It needs to be understood that mere periodic holding of elections to Parliament and State Assemblies, and occasionally to Municipalities and Panchayats, is not enough for a effective or a vibrant democracy, as we pride in calling ourselves. The underlying democratic foundations are severely lacking in the political system in India. No electoral system can provide real and effective representation for the larger societal aspirations unless the political system underlying it is not democratic in real terms. Some of the areas of concern are:
- Institutionalization of political parties
Need for a comprehensive legislation to regulate party activities, criteria for registration as a national or State party, derecognition of parties.
- Structural and organizational reforms
Party organizations– National, State and local levels; Inner party democracy– regular party elections, recruitment of party cadres, socialization, development and training, research, thinking and policy planning activities of the party.
- Party system and governance
Mechanisms to make parties viable instruments of good governance. In view of the above, the deeper political reforms can be presented in three interrelated but distinct parts: registration and de-registration of political parties, internal democracy in political parties, and comprehensive legislation for the regulation and functioning of political parties. These are discussed below and recommendations presented.
One of the suggestions for the same emerges from the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC)’s recommendation that “Representation of the People Act be amended to provide that any person charged with any offence punishable with imprisonment for a maximum term of five years or more, should be disqualified for being chosen as, or for being, a member of Parliament or Legislature of a State on the expiry of a period of one year from the date the charges were framed against him by the court in that offence and unless cleared during that one year period, he shall continue to remain so disqualified till the conclusion of the trial for that offence. In case a person is convicted of any offence by a court of law and sentenced to imprisonment for six months or more the bar should apply during the period under which the convicted person is undergoing the sentence and for a further period of six years after the completion of the period of the sentence. If any candidate violates this provision, he should be disqualified. Also, if a party puts up such a candidate with knowledge of his antecedents, it should be derecognized and deregistered”
The NCRWC offers a few more suggestions to stem the menace of criminalization in politics, viz, permanently debarring candidates convicted of heinous crimes, speedy disposal of pending criminal cases against politicians through special courts of the status of High Courts, disqualification not to take effect for a period of three months from the date of conviction in case of a sitting MP/MLA as well as during the pendency of an appeal against the order of conviction. However, this benefit would not be available for contesting fresh elections.