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Clean the stables

The conviction of a member of the Union council of ministers for murder must be a dubious first for India?s democracy.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2006 00:27 IST

Scandal and allegations have never been far from 62-year-old Shibu Soren, the Union Coal Minister who was convicted of murder on Tuesday. The crime Soren is convicted of — that of murdering his secretary, Sashinath Jha, in 1994 — is linked to another sordid act which was conveniently brushed under the carpet. That was the infamous Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery scandal, involving the payment of bribes to the party in exchange for supporting PV Narasimha Rao’s minority government in New Delhi. As if this were not enough, Soren is on bail for a mass murder case dating back to 1975, for which he had to resign his post from the government in 2004. Even then, this is a sorry end to the career of a charismatic politician, who played a major role in the establishment of the Jharkhand state.

The conviction of a member of the Union council of ministers for murder must be a dubious first for India’s democracy. But there is a positive flip side if you want to see it. The idea that everyone — rich and powerful included — are equal before the law is slowly, but steadily catching hold in India. Recent convictions, including that of megastar Sanjay Dutt on Tuesday and that of Santosh Kumar Singh, son of a top policeman, have only served to underscore this, as indeed has the retrial of Manu Sharma, the son of a prominent Haryana politician. Cynics will say that there are many more criminals among the political class. They would be correct, but the impact of Soren’s conviction on the law and order machinery, the judiciary and, no doubt, the criminalised political class will undoubtedly be salutary.

The Shibu Soren conviction can be a good starting point for getting our governing system to seriously address the issue of criminals in our political system. While it is true that criminals come from every class and section of society, it is especially important to ensure that our political class be as clean as possible. This is because in a democratic system, this is the class that has the constitutional mandate to make laws and govern the country. If this wellspring of our system gets tainted, it contaminates everything else downstream.