By refusing to allow convicted actor Sanjay Dutt to contest the Lok Sabha election, the Supreme Court has sent out a strong message against criminalisation of politics, which has been a serious problem facing Indian democracy.
The judgment could not have come at a more appropriate time. The country is in the midst of a general election and several convicted politicians had queued up to have their dis qualification removed.
This is perhaps the second most important Supreme Court judgment aimed at cleansing the electoral system after the 2003 People’s Union for Civil Liberties case that made it mandatory for candidates to declare their assets.
Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951 prohibits a person convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years from contesting elections. The disqualification continues for a further period of six years after his release.
Most politicians involved in criminal cases have been able to obstruct trial for years, thereby escaping disqualification under the RPA.
But once someone has been convicted, disqualification follows. The only recourse available is to get the conviction stayed under Section 389 of Criminal Procedure Code for removal of the disqualification.
Normally, while admitting appeals against criminal convictions, the court stays only the sentence. But the Supreme Court deviated from the norm in the case of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who quit as an MP following his conviction in a road rage case. The court’s decision to treat the Sidhu case as an exception must be appreciated for the simple reason that otherwise it could have opened the floodgates for criminals to enter politics at will.
Given the political atmosphere of opportunism where power is the ultimate goal, it may not be realistic to expect the government of the day to check the menace.
However, the message from the Supreme Court is loud and clear. Those who break the law must not make the law.