Can Convicted Politicians Head Political Parties?
It must be said at the very beginning that there can be no two opinions about the indisputable fact that in India a lot of cleaning is required in political parties because politics has become quite a murky affairs as anyone can not just enter politics but even head political parties inspite of being convicted. It is also unquestionable that political parties are most reluctant to do anything on this score and let us not live in a fools paradise by hoping that their stand would change somehow in the coming years. So, it needs no rocket scientist to conclude that Supreme Court must step in and bar convicted politicians or even politicians who have serious criminal charges against them from heading any political party or from even being a member of it.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me also inform them that the Supreme Court on December 1, 2017 sought the responses from the Centre and the Election Commission on a plea seeking to restrain convicted persons from forming political parties and becoming their office-bearers for the period they are disqualified under the election law. Can convicted politicians who incur disqualification to run for elections, head political parties? This question will now be dealt by the Supreme Court after a public interest litigation (PIL) suggested that political parties headed by convicted persons should be derecognized by the Election Commission.
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud sought the response of the Centre and Election Commission in this regard. This Bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra while asking whether the court could stop a person from propagating his political views, agreed to examine the Constitutional validity of Section 29A of the 1951 Representation of the People Act (RPA) which deals with the power of the poll panel to register a political party. The Court clarified that it was only dealing with the question whether the power of Election Commission to recognize political parties under Section 29A of the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 will also carry with it the power to derecognise such political outfits headed by convicted netas.
Needless to say, if an order is passed banning convicted netas, it is bound to take within its fold the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) whose chief Lalu Prasad is a convicted person and he will be worst affected by it. The fate of another important leader Sasikala, who claims to be the political heir to Jayalalithaa and who would have become Chief Minister if she was not convicted for corruption in a disproportionate assets case will also hinge on the outcome of this petition as she is presently in jail. Without getting personal, let me mince no words in stating unequivocally and unambiguously that all convicted politicians must be barred entirely not just from heading parties but also from being associated with politics in any manner as they are just not fit for it.
Let me be upfront in saying: The real problem in India is that there are no parameters for politicians. Are politicians coming from some different planet? If not then why are they treated with kidgloves?
Let me also be upfront in saying: Even for getting a very small job one has to be a minimum graduate nowadays but for becoming an MP or MLA or for heading a political party there is no such minimum educational qualification which is a huge mockery and an open travesty of justice which must be set right without forwarding any excuse of any kind! Why there is a proper police verification for getting any job no matter how small it may be but for becoming an MP or MLA, you can like Phoolan Devi indulge in mass murders or any other crime and yet no one can stop you from taking oath not just as an MP or MLA but also as Ministers and slam the charges as “politically motivated”! Why any person cannot vote from jail but contest elections from jail? Why are those who are in jail allowed to contest from jail?
It is also worth asking: For how long will our democratic system be held hostage to such criminals and for how long will they be given a long rope? Why only politicians alone for whom the standards of recruitment must be comparatively much higher than other professions because they have a share in every pie and exercise untrammelled power in every field are given relaxations everywhere and are allowed to hold the entire system to hostage and make an open mockery of our democratic system? Why can’t politicians be also made accountable like others? Why politicians like Vijay Mallya who is a former Rajya Sabha MP are allowed to take huge loan of more than Rs 9000 crore and then allowed to flee India and enjoy luxurious live in London in UK with that money which is taxpayers hard earned money? Why special treatment for them alone?
Be it noted, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra who is appearing for the petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay submitted that convicted politicians are barred from contesting elections but they indirectly call the shots by heading a political party and hold posts in them. He said rightly that if a person on conviction in a criminal case was barred from contesting elections, it would be incongruent to allow such person to form or head a political outfit. The plea said convicted politicians, who are barred from contesting elections, can still run political parties and hold posts in them, besides deciding as to who will become a lawmaker.
Not stopping here, the plea has sought a ban on convicted persons from forming a political party and becoming office bearers for the period they are disqualified under the election laws. It has sought a direction to declare Section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1951 as “arbitrary, irrational and ultra-vires” to the Constitution and to authorize the poll panel to register and de-register political parties.
Why should convicted netas have a say in deciding as to who should become a law maker? Why should they not be barred from heading political parties also? Why no action till now in this regard?
Truth be told, the PIL sought framing of guidelines to decriminalize the electoral system and ensure inner-party democracy as proposed by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC). The petition very rightly said that currently, even a person who has been convicted for heinous crimes like murder, rape, smuggling, money laundering, loot, sedition, or dacoity, can form a political party and become its president or office bearers. The petition named several top political leaders who have been convicted or have charges framed against them and were holding top political posts and “wielding political power”.
Going forward, it said the proliferation of political parties has become a major concern as Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, allows a small group of people to form a political party by making a very simple declaration. “Presently about 20 percent of registered political parties contest election and remaining 80 percent parties create excessive load on electoral system and public money,” the plea said and rightly sought the implementation of the 1990 Goswami Committee on electoral reforms. The plea also claimed that in 2004, the poll panel had proposed amendment to Section 29A, authorizing it to issue apt orders regulating the registration or de-registration of political parties.
It is noteworthy that senior lawyers Siddharth Luthra and Sajan Poovayya informed the Bench that under the statutory schemes, the poll panel was empowered to register political parties but it lacked the authority under the Representation of the Peoples Act 1951 to deregister them. But the Bench while not giving a final order on this and fixing the plea for hearing after six weeks hastened to ask that, “Can a court restrain a convicted person from forming a political party? Can you stop a man from propagating his political views? It would be against the freedom of speech and expression to debar a convicted person from propagating political views through a party”.
With due respect to Supreme Court, I would like to ask: Why are candidates barred from any government job if even their name is falsely dragged in by their rivals? Why only politicians alone are given the long rope? Why is it conveniently ignored that it is politicians who are running this country and therefore there must be highest standards for them in all respects otherwise we will continue seeing MPs and MLAs bunking session even when important Bills are being presented and not just this but also throwing papers on Speaker and using filthy language in court and resorting to all sorts of uncivilized acts?
Why can’t they also be treated like others? Why recognition of political parties is not cancelled when their supporters indulge in wanton violence and destruction of public and private property and why are they not compelled to pay for all the damage inflicted by them or their supporters with their active blessings? Why even after raping and killing are they shown undue leniency but applicants for all government jobs are not shown any such kind of leniency?
Which job can be bigger and more prestigious than that of politicians who become MPs, MLAs, Ministers, Chief Ministers and even Prime Minister? Still why no strict parameters for them? It is high time and this must change now. The earlier this is done, the better it shall be for the healthy functioning of our democratic system because it is politicians and politicians alone who are the bedrock of democracy and exercise control in every sphere in our country! Can anyone dispute this also?
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.