There is an electrifying atmosphere in India with the announcement of the 15th parliamentary elections to be held in April-May, 2009. This time as many as 671 million people are eligible to vote for 543 seats of the Lower House of the Parliament.
The announcement of the Lok Sabha elections has given yet another opportunity to the citizens of India to give itself a good government. However, the challenge remains whether the citizens of the country can clean the Parliament from the tainted, criminals, rapist, bluff masters who sneak into the central hall through the democratic means. The nation is confronted with this problem as how to stop these undesirable elements from staging yet another democratic coup.
One of the biggest anomalies of the Indian parliamentary democracy is that it has been unable to prevent people of criminal background to get elected to Parliament. A number of media reports highlight the fact that there is considerable number of persons with criminal background in the outgoing Parliament, some of them even facing murder charges.
The national concern is what will happen to our country and its governance, if the present conditions are allowed to continue, where Parliament becomes a sanctuary for large number of criminals. Would that not make Indian parliament a mock exercise?
Since considerable percentage of electorates are illiterate and are not well informed, persons with tainted records use money power to hoodwink the voters to get elected. How can the country get quality governance when people with corrupt and dishonest background sit in the Parliament?
Necessarily, some method has to be found out to ensure that the people with criminal background and those facing charges of corruption and murder would not be allowed to contest the next parliamentary elections. The forthcoming parliamentary election would not serve any purpose if the criminal elements were allowed to contest the polls.
However, the rule of the game is: only a convicted person can be debarred from contesting elections. All the charge-sheeted persons are assumed to be innocent till found guilty. This allows even the criminals, rapists, and murderers to contest election. No one can do anything about it.
Take the case of J Jayalalitha, ex-chief minister of Tamil Nadu, who is facing innumerable charges in disproportionate assets case. Somehow she has been able to dodge the judiciary and no judgment has been pronounced on her finding guilty so far. The cases against her are going on for more than ten years. In order to have impartiality, the case was transferred out of the state and special courts were constituted in Bangalore, but this does not changed the pace of the hearing of her cases. No one knows how long this would go on. The end result is such elements continue to remain in political circulation.
There are only three ways to get round of this problem. One, those charge-sheeted should be debarred from contesting polls. One may argue that this can happen if the citizens can put pressure on this issue. But do the citizens have any power to do so? Even if they had, who will they put pressure on, same old politician. Now which politicians would like to sign it death warrant.
The other way could be trial of such cases in fast track courts for speedy delivery of justice. Again we know this is not deliverable as we have seen in spite of the creation of special courts no justice is forthcoming even after ten years of the filing of the charges in Jayalalitha’s case. It’s obvious that the political class have so much clout in India that they can successfully stymie the judiciary process. There is, however, exception to the rule.
The third way could be that political parties should stop issuing tickets to the tainted politician. But one wonders which political party would do so, for them winning is more important than anything else. Such tainted characters are most probable winning candidates and no political party could dissociate with them. This would mean they must harp on the bogey: ‘a person is innocent till found guilty’.
As far as citizens are concerned, they can only voice their concerns but those who wield the authority, power and responsibility and all such agencies should act and respond to the concern of the citizens.
In this context, the role of Election Commission is very important. This body has to rise up to the occasion and meet the expectations by examining how the existing rules and regulations could be more effectively put to use to prevent the criminals from contesting the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
If necessary, the Chief Election Commissioner should invite suggestions and guidance from the citizens as to how to effectively prevent the criminals from contesting parliamentary elections within the ambit of the existing rules and regulations. There is certainly scope for progressive and forward-looking interpretations of existing rules and regulations in this regard. The original and fruitful ideas could be implemented from the coming general elections.
However, one wonders if the Election Commission can do anything about this issue. Such ideas have to be ratified by the Parliament or the Supreme Court. It’s a vicious circle and there are little choices to put a full stop to it.
So how can we really get rid of this problem? Well for me, we need some kind of JP movement to handle this issue. If mass scale awareness is created on this issue, the political parties would be forced to purge such tainted persons from contesting the polls.
Here, the role of media and NGOs are very important. Some may question which media or NGO may like to bell the cat. Well this is something debatable. I may argue there are still many numbers of media that speak truth with conviction and they cannot be easily bought over.
My final point is; hope for good governance lays in the hands of the concerned citizens and the watchdogs of the country.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org