There has been a long standing demand to bar criminals from contesting the elections. Union Law Minister, Veerappa Moily pointed out that at the moment there is a consensus on the issue and we would have to discuss the matter further before making the recommendations to the Union Government.
Moily was positive that these reforms would come through and exercise to debar chargesheeted candidates from contesting elections has had the consensus during the regional consulations on electoral reforms. Let us see how things would shape up during the national consultation. But till date the response has been very good and it looks positive.
However what the Law Minister is not telling us is that this issue was not all that was discussed during the regional consultations. In fact some persons who have attended a majority of these meetings told us that it had turned out to be more of a grievance redressal cell for the MLAs and MPs.
Anil Bairwal, coordinator of the Association of Democratic Reforms who has participated in most of these meetings points out that the biggest drawback was this was not a public participation and was done by invitation. This is a matter that concerns our people since it is a question about their leaders and hence we felt that the discussions should have involved the public as well.
About the optimism of the Law Minister, well I would say that such excercises have been conducted in the past. Sonia Gandhi herself had said that criminal candidates should be barred from contesting the elections. However election after election the Congress continued to float candidates with a criminal background. Although I do not want to sound too cynical and really hope something comes out of these deliberations, I would want to add that the political will is lacking. A few consultations is not sufficient to change the scenario. We may discuss a lot of things and even give our recommendations, but then see what is happening with the Lok Pal bill. A lot of things can be shot down at the last moment. Hence I say that a political will is very important in such issues.
To Moily’s credit, he has taken the lead and is doing the best he can. From what all of us guage of this exercise, we realise that there is no political will, the will to effect reforms. In fact Moily when he was the Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission, he had made similar proposals regarding the same issue. Did anything come out? No. However let us give him due credit, he is trying his best.
This issue is a serious one and just issuing mere statements will not do. There have been many such debates in the past as well, but it always gets shot down at the last moment. We are just keeping our fingers crossed.
Moily does speak of overwhelming support, but from what we saw at the meeting, we did not find anything of this sort. First and foremost these were not public consultations and were by invitation. The sessions comprised MLAs and Chief Ministers and also members of the election commission.
During the meetings we did notice one thing that slowly the issue pertaining to chargesheeted MLAs was discussed very less. The leaders used it as a platform to redress their grievances. The biggest grievance was that the election commission of India had become very strict and the candidates during the elections were not allowed to put up posters. Further they spent a lot of time cribbing about not having a free hand during the elections. They complained about the problems in the voter’s list and how the ECI had become exceptionally strict during the elections. Hence the long and short of all these discussions was that hardly 10 per cent of the time was spent on debating and discussing the real issue.
What needs to be done?
Section 125A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, should be amended to provide for more stringent punishment for concealing or providing wrong information on Form 26 of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 to minimum two years imprisonment and removing the alternative punishment of assessing a fine upon the candidate
The information submitted in the affidavits by the candidates should be certified by Political Parties
The information given in the affidavits of the candidates on criminal charges, assets etc. should be verified by an independent central authority in a time bound manner
Any person against whom a charge has been framed by a court of law, in a criminal case for which the punishment is imprisonment of two years or more, should not be allowed to contest elections, and any political party that gives a ticket to such an individual should be ―deregistered and derecognized forthwith.
EVMs should have an option or a button for ―None-of-the-above.
Political parties should be required to maintain proper accounts and these accounts should be available for public scrutiny
The Election Commission has recently got the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to draw up guidelines concerning the formats, frequency, scrutiny, etc. of the accounts to be maintained by political parties. These guidelines should be made mandatory, and any failure to comply with these should lead to automatic de-registration of the party
There should be a ceiling on the expenditure that a candidate can incur during the election. This ceiling should be fixed, and revised periodically, by the Election Commission of India, without the need of any reference or recommendation to the government.
The government should empower the Election Commission to take whatever steps necessary to ensure (a) accurate, updated electoral rolls, (b) that every citizen to be able to (i) register her/his vote at any place of his choosing and any time of the year, and (ii) be able to cast one‘s voter wherever one happens to be on the date of polling
Common electoral rolls should be used for all elections. The needs of the electoral rolls to be used for parliamentary and state assembly elections on the one hand, and those for local bodies and panchayats on the other, should be harmonized; and necessary legislation, in case it is needed, should be done immediately
If any independent candidate fails to win five percent of the vote or more, he should be debarred from contesting as an independent for the same office for six years
An independent candidate who loses election three times consecutively for the same office as an independent should be permanently debarred from contesting election to that office
A person should not be allowed to contest from more than one constituency at a time
There should be a provision for filing election petitions even against candidates who have lost the election, in instances where they have indulged in corrupt practices during the election
A new Section 126-A should be introduced in the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibiting conducting of exit polls and publishing results in any manner, during the period starting from 48 hours before the close of poll in an election, with the prohibition lasting till the close of poll in the last phase in case of a multi-phased election. This amendment should cover opinion polls also, and that Section-126 (1)(b) should be made applicable to print media also.
There should be a limit on the expenditure that can be incurred in the Election to a Legislative Council, as in the case of Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections, and the candidates should also be required to submit the account of election expenses just as candidates for Lok Sabha and State Assembly election.
Use of religion, caste, community, tribe, and any other form of group identity for electoral gain or for gathering political support should not be allowed and the Representation of the People Act, 1951,be suitably amended to give the Election Commission powers to take deterrent actions against those candidates and political parties who resort to it, such actions should include, but not limited to, disqualifying candidates from contesting elections and de-registering the offending political parties. Political parties should also not be allowed to use overtly religious, caste,
Legislative Councils in all states be abolished
Whips should be issued only when the existence of the government is at stake and not otherwise
There should be limit prescribed for the amount of donation that a political party can accept from an individual, company, organization, or any entity (Para 9.3).
Political parties should maintain should be required to maintain proper accounts in predetermined account heads
Accounts of political parties should be audited by auditors recommended and approved by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The current scenario:
As on today, there are 153 MPs in our parliament who have a criminal record. Despite all the talk about reforms the irony is that the number of candidates with a criminal background has gone up from 128 to 153 during the 2009 polls. In addition to this 15 MPs in Parliament have one murder charge against them.
In this list, the BJP has 43 and the Congress has 41 such candidates. Ironically in this list of 153, 74 MPs have very serious criminal charges against them. These candidates were given tickets despite them declaring in their affidavits their pending criminal charges.