Criminalization of Politics and disqualification of Convicted Politicians

The constitutional functionaries, who have taken the pledge to uphold the constitutional principles, are charged with the responsibility to ensure that the existing political framework does not get tainted with the evil of corruption. However, despite this heavy mandate prescribed by our Constitution, our Indian democracy, which is the world’s largest democracy, has seen a steady increase in the level of criminalization that has been creeping into the Indian polity. This unsettlingly increasing trend of criminalization of politics, to which our country has been a witness, tends to disrupt the constitutional ethos and strikes at the very root of our democratic form of government by making our citizenry suffer at the hands of those who are nothing but a liability to our country.

Directions by Supreme Court :-

(i) Each contesting candidate shall fill up the form as provided by the Election Commission and the form must contain all the particulars as required therein.

(ii) It shall state, in bold letters, with regard to the criminal cases pending against the candidate.

(iii) If a candidate is contesting an election on the ticket of a particular party, he/she is required to inform the party about the criminal cases pending against him/her.

(iv) The concerned political party shall be obligated to put up on its website the aforesaid information pertaining to candidates having criminal antecedents.

(v) The candidate as well as the concerned political party shall issue a declaration in the widely circulated newspapers in the locality about the antecedents of the candidate and also give wide publicity in the electronic media. When we say wide publicity, we mean that the same shall be done at least thrice after filing of the nomination papers.

These directions ought to be implemented in true spirit and right earnestness in a bid to strengthen the democratic set-up. There may be certain gaps or lacunae in a law or legislative enactment which can definitely be addressed by the legislature if it is backed by the proper intent, strong resolve and determined will of right-thinking minds to ameliorate the situation. It must also be borne in mind that the law cannot always be found fault with for the lack of its stringent implementation by the concerned authorities. Therefore, it is the solemn responsibility of all concerned to enforce the law as well as the directions laid down by this Court from time to time in order to infuse the culture of purity in politics and in democracy and foster and nurture an informed citizenry, for ultimately it is the citizenry which decides the fate and course of politics in a nation and thereby ensures that ―we shall be governed no better than we deserve‖, and thus, complete information about the criminal antecedents of the candidates forms the bedrock of wise decision-making and informed choice by the citizenry. Be it clearly stated that informed choice is the cornerstone to have a pure and strong democracy.

We have issued the aforesaid directions with immense anguish, for the Election Commission cannot deny a candidate to contest on the symbol of a party. A time has come that the Parliament must make law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream. It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the accused but it is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation. It is true that false cases are foisted on prospective candidates, but the same can be addressed by the Parliament through appropriate legislation. The nation eagerly waits for such legislation, for the society has a legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance. The voters cry for systematic sustenance of constitutionalism. The country feels agonized when money and muscle power become the supreme power. Substantial efforts have to be undertaken to cleanse the polluted stream of politics by prohibiting people with criminal antecedents so that they do not even conceive of the idea of entering into politics. They should be kept at bay.

[Source: Public Interest Foundation vs Union Of India decided by SC on 25 September, 2018]

Scope of stay of conviction by Appellate Court:

The appellate court has the power, in an appropriate case, to stay the conviction under Section 389 besides suspending the sentence. The power to stay a conviction is by way of an exception. Before it is exercised, the appellate court must be made aware of the consequence which will ensue if the conviction were not to be stayed. Once the conviction has been stayed by the appellate court, the disqualification under sub-sections 1, 2 and 3 of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act 1951 will not operate. Under Article 102(1)(e) and Article 191(1)(e), the disqualification operates by or under any law made by Parliament. Disqualification under the above provisions of Section 8 follows upon a conviction for one of the listed offences. 11 Id at page 673 Once the conviction has been stayed during the pendency of an appeal, the disqualification which operates as a consequence of the conviction cannot take or remain in effect. In view of the consistent statement of the legal position in Rama Narang and in decisions which followed, there is no merit in the submission that the power conferred on the appellate court under Section 389 does not include the power, in an appropriate case, to stay the conviction. Clearly, the appellate court does possess such a power. Moreover, it is untenable that the disqualification which ensues from a conviction will operate despite the appellate court having granted a stay of the conviction. The authority vested in the appellate court to stay a conviction ensures that a conviction on untenable or frivolous grounds does not operate to cause serious prejudice.

The affidavit filed by the Election Commission of India indicates that the Commission has already issued instructions on 13 October 2015 to the Chief Secretaries of all states to ensure that necessary steps are taken to bring to the notice of the Speaker or Chairman as the case may be of the House and the Chief Electoral Officer of the state, an order of conviction within a period of seven days of the passing of the order. The Election Commission is sufficiently empowered to take appropriate steps in accordance with law. No further directions are necessary in that regard.

[Source: Lok Prahari vs Election Commission Of India decided by SC on 26 September, 2018]

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