If there is one blot on the otherwise impressive record of India’s electoral process, it is the scandalous presence of lawmakers with criminal backgrounds in Parliament and assemblies.
The reason behind the ability of such people to notch up victories in elections and keep their party bosses happy is not difficult to seek: According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, politicians with a criminal record are more likely to be elected than those with a clean slate because the former have illicit funds with which to buy votes.
Last year, the Union Cabinet sought to reverse a Supreme Court ruling on the disqualification of legislators convicted for crimes punishable with more than two years in jail.
This, the wise men argued, was “to ensure that governance is not adversely impacted”. The 15th Lok Sabha had 162 MPs with pending criminal charges; one in three assembly members is involved in an unlawful case. If one were to focus on serious charges (murder, kidnapping and physical assault) approximately 14% or 76 MPs face pending cases.
But if anybody thought that the Cabinet decision was the last they would hear on the contentious issue, they were wrong.
On Monday, the Supreme Court made yet another intervention in the issue that could have far-reaching ramifications: It set a deadline for lower courts to complete trial in cases involving lawmakers within a year of framing of charges and stipulated that all proceedings involving lawmakers must be conducted on a day-to-day basis in order to expedite the trial.
This would ensure that lawmakers don’t enjoy membership of the legislative body despite being charged with a heinous offence.
Even though the Cabinet had refused to act on the Supreme Court verdict last year, the public mood seems to have pushed political parties to take a re-look, especially since the polls are just round the corner.
While this forced introspection may force a Chavan out of the electoral process, there will be still be many Yeddyurappas who will make the cut because either they have moneybags bankrolling them or because they hold sway over a particular caste group.
However, rulings like the one given on Monday will give the movement for cleaner candidates a much-needed boost.