Criminalisation of politics has remained under judicial scrutiny over the past decade or so, even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly restrained itself from making an intervention. On Monday, the apex court rightly put the onus on Parliament to decide on debarring tainted politicians from contesting elections. The Bench thus disposed of a plea seeking the nullification of the election of MLAs and MPs chargesheeted for over a year for offences punishable with a minimum five-year imprisonment. A five-judge Constitution Bench had in September 2018 described criminalisation of politics as a ‘termite to the citadel of democracy’, but hastened to add that the court could not usurp the power of law-making vested with the legislature.
Half of the winning candidates in the just-concluded Bihar Assembly elections have serious criminal cases registered against them, including those related to murder, rape and kidnapping, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms. In February this year, days after the Delhi Assembly polls, the Supreme Court had ordered political parties to upload details of pending criminal cases against their candidates and specify reasons for preferring the tainted ones to those with an unblemished record. The court had also asked the Election Commission to report non-compliance of this order. It seems no such exercise was carried out during the Bihar polls.
There is no gainsaying that candidates accused of committing or plotting heinous crimes should have no place in the electoral arena, even if they have high winnability and popularity. Such politicians have to be kept out of the fray till they are cleared of all serious charges by the court. Any dilly-dallying by Parliament on this issue is uncalled for. The legislature needs to play its constitutional role by framing a law that provides for the weeding out of criminal elements at the pre-poll stage itself. Voters can make an informed choice only if they are fully aware of the candidate’s background. Political parties’ reluctance to commit themselves to electoral reforms has proved to be a major stumbling block so far. They must be held accountable, at long last, for banking on their black sheep.