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Wednesday, Jul 17, 2002

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Political effrontery

B. S. Raghavan

THE purported response of India's political class, acting in unprecedented unison, to the long-voiced demand of its masters, the people, to stop sending crooks and criminals as law-makers to legislatures is two-fold.

One, to bar from contest candidates against whom charges have been framed by courts at least six months prior to the date of filing the nomination in two separate cases of heinous crimes defined as murder, treason, kidnapping for ransom, rape, dacoity, dacoity with murder, drug-smuggling and causing death by a terrorist act. And, two, to negate the competence and jurisdiction of both the courts and the Election Commission to make it obligatory for a candidate to disclose information on his assets and liabilities, and those of his spouse and dependents, while filing his nomination.

The first part is certainly an advance on the present scandalous state of affairs, in which candidates facing court-framed charges on heinous crimes in any number of cases could still merrily sail through the electoral process and become members of Parliament and State legislatures. While formulating this provision, the political class has been crafty, as usual, giving rise to suspicion of its motives behind the stipulation regarding two separate cases and six months prior to the nomination.

If it is a heinous crime, is not involvement in just one case bad enough? Further, the requirement that the charges should have been framed in two "separate" cases is intriguing. Is it that, if the same person is facing in one court only one case in which charges pertaining to two or more or all of the specified heinous crimes have been framed, he goes scot-free as far as his candidature is concerned, whereas, if he is charged with rape in one case in a court and with dacoity in another case in a different court, he is liable to be disqualified?

In defining heinous crimes also, in respect of kidnapping, the Bill practises legerdemain. It says the offence must be kidnapping for ransom, and not mere kidnapping.

Instead of playing hide-and-seek with the people in this manner, the Government should make the provision simple and straightforward by making disqualification of candidature mandatory even if there be one case and omitting the condition about ransom.

The ostensible reason for the period of limitation of six months is that when an election is close, political opponents may foist false cases on intending candidates, and the distancing of the cases by six months guards against such an eventuality.

Here again, considering the chronic and rampant nature of criminalisation, the present provision should be changed to bar candidates facing charges framed by court one month before the date for filing nominations.

According to the Supreme Court, it is a fundamental right of the people to know the assets and liabilities of those wanting to represent them, and to rub out the jurisdiction and competence of the Court and the Election Commission in this regard is political effrontery of the first order.

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