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Owning Up to Criminalisation In Politics

Owning up to criminalisation in politics


In February 2020, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement on criminalisation in politics, which will have far-reaching implications for Indian Democracy.

This editorial discusses the far-reaching consequences of the court order.


2.1 Supreme Court 2020 verdict

  • In an order in February 2020, the SC ordered all political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The Apex court also ordered the political parties to state the reason that drove them to nominate suspected criminals over decent people.
  • This information is to be published in both local and national newspaper and the social media handles of political parties as well.
  • The court order mandates the publication of the information by political parties about the entire criminal history of the candidate either within 48 hours of the selection of candidates or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.

2.2 Applicability of the Judgement

  • The judgment is applicable to parties both at Central and State levels and a failure to comply with the court's directives would “in contempt of this Court’s orders/directions.”
  • Hence, for the first time, the political parties and their leadership will have topublicly own up to criminalisation of politics, which they have been denying for all these years.

2.3 Earlier orders

  • Earlier orders state that
  1. Each candidate shall submit a sworn affidavit giving financial details and criminal cases;
  2. Each candidate shall inform the political party in writing of criminal cases against him or her; and
  3. The party shall put up on its website and on social media as well as publish in newspapers the names and details of such candidates


3.1 Need for such an orderSupreme Court orders parties to publish criminal history of Lok Sabha, Assembly candidates

  • The SC Judgement observes that the number of Members of Parliament (MP) having pending criminal cases against them has been on the rise.
  • While 24% of the MP had criminal cases pending against them in 2004, the numbers rose to 30% in 2009 and in 2019, 43% of the MP had criminal cases pending against them.
  • India is the only democratic country with freedom of press where the problem of criminalization of politics exists at such a massive scale.

3.2 An ever present crisis

  • Presently, India is in the middle of a more immediate and more threateningcrises viz.
    • the COVID-19 pandemic
    • the economic recession and slowdown due to the nationwide lockdown
    • the crisis of reverse migration of workers to villages
    • small businesses shutting down in many sectors
    • unprecedented levels of unemployment
    • a highly stressed banking and financial sector
    • the on-going border standoff with China
  • However, India also has an ever-present silent crisis, which requires immediate attention as well, viz. the steady criminalization and deterioration in politics over decades, with the deterioration declining in the last 16 years.
  • Politics dominates bureaucracy, and reins in business, civil society and the media, hence it is imperative that Governance is free of the “criminal” virus.

3.3 Bad Governance

  • The outcome of criminalisation in politics is bad governance.
  • Numerous surveys conducted year after year reveals that the Indian citizens are unhappy with the quality of governance.
  • The Indian citizens are given limited electoral choices and often have to vote for the lesser among evils.
  • The sorry state of affairs can be estimated from the fact that despite numerous parties forming government at the Union and State level, governance hasn't really improved, barring a few exception.
  • Use of money power to buy MLAs and MPs makes a mockery of voters, election process and outcomes.


4.1 Effect of court orders and judgements

  • The Apex court has issued several judgements and directives to address the issue of rising criminalisation in politics and several laws have also been passed but to no avail.
  • Lack of Enforcement - One of the most important reason that court orders and legislation has not been able to keep criminalisation of politics in check is lack of enforcement of laws and judgments.
  • Ambiguity over penalty - The consequences and penalty in case of a failure to comply with the court orders is also not clear and so it is with the February 2020 judgement.
  • The Court Order in this context is a welcome step but still candidates with serious criminal charges are still able to contest elections.
  • There have been many arguments against the Court order but the Court has dismissed several petitions calling for a ban due to legal and technical constraints.

4.2 Lack of political will

  • The political system is unwilling to change the law or the system and politics presently is in the hands of those who want power for its own sake.
  • A political leader being held responsible for giving ticket to large numbers of tainted candidates with pending criminal cases is going to act as a deterrent for other political parties.

4.3 Ultimate power lies with the citizens

  • The problem with fake news, trolling, and fanciful claims will continue to reduce transparency and drown out the little that citizens can do.
  • Ensuring prosecution and increasing public pressure is certainly going to help.
  • Mahatma Gandhi taught us to confront the real issue to solve the problem and on closer inspection, we will find that the top leadership of the political party is equally responsible for fielding tainted candidates.


5.1 Way Forward

  • The courts should clearly state the penalties to be awarded in case of non-compliance with court orders.
  • The law enforcement Agencies should act with vigour to ensure that the guilty are prosecuted.
  • The top political leadership should be held responsiblefor non-compliance of the court orders.
  • These is little hope of any change without such bold and drastic steps.

5.2 More Vigilant

  • The law enforcement agencies should be more vigilant to ensure compliance. This includes:
    • monitoring the affidavits of candidates
    • working with the Election Commission to ensure that information is promptly available on their websites
    • widely circulating this information to voters through the social media tools     
  • The Supreme Court judgement also requires that the details of such tainted candidates with cases pending against them should be promptly put up on their websites, and on their social media handles, along with proper reasons for giving them ticket.
  • Monitoring political parties for compliance with this directive also needs to be done.

5.3 Vigilance by voters

  • The voters of this country also need to be vigilant towards use of money and muscle power to win elections.
  • Showering money, gifts and other inducements is a common sight during elections.
  • Any change will be far slow and insignificantuntil the people of this country realise that the leaders who bribe us for votes cannot be trusted.
  • Fortunately, a large and ever growing number of voters and organisations are joining in this work of cleansing politics.


6.1 Dramatic Changes

  • There will not be any immediate drastic changes out of the court's order.
  • The quality of candidates will be same as ever.
  • Political campaigns will resist developmental issues and may continue to be more and more personal and even abusive.
  • Money and muscle power will continue to be abused and horse trading of MLAs post-election in hung assemblies will continue to be practiced.

6.2 Insignificant changes required

  • All the steps mentioned above; however insignificant they seem are necessary.
  • More than a dozen on Supreme Court judgments on electoral reforms since 2002 are in response to citizen initiatives while the political system has not undertaken even a single initiative to address this concern.
  • The citizen of this great nation should strive until the power finally reaches the masses as envisioned by the framers of Indian Constitution.

6.3 Upcoming Bihar Elections

  • The Court judgement will be first implemented in the upcoming Bihar Elections to be held in October 2020.
  • To ensure a positive change in the present situation we need to take the steps discussed in this editorial, beginning right from the Bihar elections.

Source: The Hindu