The Economic Times
New Delhi

After the 15th Lok Sabha was constituted, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) brought out an analysis. While this is now history, 29.8 per cent of MPs had pending criminal cases, 14 per cent had serious — violent crimes, forgery, theft and cheating — pending criminal cases.

There was a geographical concentration in this: UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. But criminal antecedents were no guarantee of electoral success. The issue isn't new.

Perhaps the earliest explicit one was the 1993 Vohra Committee Report on Criminalisation of Politics. I believe that the complete report (such as annexures) has still not been placed in the public domain.

We then had reports by the Election Commission (EC), Law Commission, National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the law ministry's papers on electoral reforms.

Bottom of the Pyramid

There hasn't been much progress or consensus. But consensus on what? The Lok Sabha is top of the pyramid, so to speak, and criminalisation of politics and politicisation of criminals begins lower down. Systemic problems at the bottom of the pyramid are even more intractable.

Let's get a relative non-issue out of the way. What is a "crime"? It is with reference to a specific legislation, say, the Indian Penal Code. Surely, we are not concerned with all "crimes".

For instance, rare is the politician who will not have violated Section 144. We are concerned with "grave", "serious" and "heinous" crimes and, perhaps, those linked to corruption. One way to pin down and define such crimes is to list them: murder, rape, smuggling, dacoity and so on.

Vacuumed in a Decade?

That's also what Sections 8 and 8A of the Representation of the People Act do. There is a long list of crimes, for disqualification. Reflecting my individual biases, I don't see why violation of "any law providing for the prevention of hoarding or profiteering" should be treated on the same footing as murder. This kind of listing of offences under various statutes is unnecessarily complicated.

The EC's Form 26 under Conduct of Election Rules is simpler. Without mentioning specific sections of specific statutes, it only talks about offences punishable with jail terms of two years or more. Such an approach should suffice to cleanse the 17th or 18th Lok Sabha of "criminals". With the relative non-issue out of the way, and having pinned down "crime", we have problems on progress towards consensus.

As far as I can make out, though these aren't watertight compartments, we have a threepronged approach in terms of suggestions floating around. I will call this VPL: as in, leave it to the Voter, leave it to the Party and leave it to Legislation. I think V is green (likely to happen), P is red (unlikely to happen) and Lis amber (will partly happen).

The V argument is partly a disclosure one. Affidavits require criminal antecedents to be revealed, but there are insufficient deterrents against concealment and providing misleading information.


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