It is tricky trying to determine an appropriate response to the latest order of the Supreme Court seeking to rid electoral politics of unsavoury persons. Should it be a philosophically positive “as long as there’s life there’s hope”… or a lament that their Lordships admitted to their own shortcomings when expressing an inability to issue firm directives to the government? For it is wishful thinking to expect the political class to commit hara-kiri ~ not after the reluctance to take legislative action to crack down on the scourge of lynch mobs.

The notion that self-publicity would serve as a corrective is far-fetched ~ today’s politicians flaunt their criminality, it hones their muscularity in the all-important vote-catching endeavour. There are a host of electoral safeguards in the rule book: they count for nothing when it has become a matter of pride to have successfully mounted a poll campaign from within a prison cell.

Their Lordships need little reminder of that pathetic reality. Reading out the operative parts of the order of a five-member Constitutional bench, the Chief Justice, Mr Dipak Misra, said: “Parliament must ensure that criminals must not come to politics. No bar on criminal antecedents of political leaders, it’s for Parliament to make laws. We are not in a position to add disqualification of candidates on the filing of charge-sheets in criminal cases,” the CJI observed. “National interest demands Parliament enacts such legislation and the country awaits it.”

The five-judge Constitution bench also comprised Justices Fali Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. In the course of the hearing it made it clear that it can neither lay down a law nor ask the Parliament to enact one to bar politicians with criminal antecedents from contesting elections. “We can’t make a law or do indirectly what we can’t do directly. We will only see if we can do anything on disclosure (of criminal antecedents). We will see if we can add to the disclosure so that people make a well-informed choice at the polling booth. Let people judge”.

Alas, if the people were in a position to make such principled judgments there would have been little need for judicial action to have been sought for electoral filtration. The court did not pull its punches and used terms like an “extremely disastrous and lamentable situation” and noted that the “polluted stream of politics” had to be cleansed” but to what avail?

When the leader of one national political party dubs refugees as “termites”, and another slams a “Gabbar Singh Tax” it points to the deterioration of the political discourse. And that discourse determines the action on the ground. Judicial sermons hardly register and as 2019 nears they will be stripped of even notional relevance. True there exist principled persons who are disgusted with contemporary public affairs, they have been relegated to marginal status in a tottering democracy.