New Delhi, 14 July
The ruling dispensation at the Centre has unexpectedly got a reason to be elated before the beginning of the Monsoon session of Parliament as now Opposition parties will be constrained to take a softer line towards it on a number of its legislative agenda, including the food security Bill.
Political parties, smarting under last month&’s full Bench Central Information Commission&’s (CIC) judgment bringing political parties under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Indian political class has been subjected to swallow two additional doses of bitter pills last week by the Supreme Court.
The apex court, in a judgment on 10 July barred the convicted MPs and MLAs from Parliament and Assemblies in order to decriminalise politics. The SC ruling struck down a provision of the electoral law which protects the convicted lawmakers from disqualification on the ground of pendency of appeal in the higher court.
The next day, in another judgment, the apex court ruled that a person, who is in jail or in police custody, cannot contest elections to legislative bodies. Data analysed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), say out of a total 4807 sitting MPs and MLAs, 1460 (30%) sitting MPs and MLAs have declared criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits submitted to the Election Commission of India prior to contesting elections. Out of the total number of sitting MPs and MLAs analysed, 688 (14 per cent) have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. Out of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs, 162 (30 per cent) have declared criminal cases against themselves. Fourteen per cent of the current Lok Sabha MPs have declared serious criminal cases against themselves.
Out of the 4032 sitting MLAs from all state Assemblies, 1258 (31per cent) have declared criminal cases against themselves. Fifteen per cent of the current MLAs from all state Assemblies have declared serious criminal cases against them. Thirty per cent of MPs and MLAs, who have been elected on BJP tickets have declared criminal cases against themselves (out of the 1017 MPs and MLAs from BJP, 313 have declared criminal cases).
Twenty per cent of MPs and MLAs who have been elected on INC tickets have declared criminal cases against themselves (out of the 1433 elected representatives from INC, 305 have declared criminal cases against them). Forty eight per cent of elected representatives who have been elected on SP tickets have declared criminal cases against them.
In the recent elections that have been covered by ADR and NEW, the Bihar 2010 Assembly has 58 per cent MLAs who have declared criminal cases against them. The Uttar Pradesh 2012 Assembly has 47 per cent MLAs with criminal cases.
If these two SC judgments are not challenged in the constitutional Bench immediately, there is going to be far-reaching consequences on the polity of India, which can change its very complexion. The class and caste composition on which it has so far been thriving will go haywire in a single stroke. Therefore, almost all political parties are bound to feel threatened by it and would be willing to put their heads together to overcome the menace to their very existence.
The Congress may succeed in softening the stance of the Opposition parties on some of the legislation awaiting parliamentary nod. Opposition parties too will be constrained to oblige them in the interest of their common goal.
The remedy has to be in place before the electoral process for Assembly elections in five states or for the next Lok Sabha begins. Otherwise, the political parties will have to replace a substantial chunk of the present lot of lawmakers with that of a fresh lot of candidates, impeccable in the eyes of law but not potential enough to win the election.
Not only promulgating an ordinance to supersede last month&’s order of the CIC bringing political parties under the RTI Act rests with the ruling dispensation but it has also to take a call whether or not to move the apex court to refer the two judgments aimed at decriminalising polity before the constitutional Bench.