New Delhi, Jan 9: Painting a none too rosy picture of politics in the country, the Supreme Court Wednesday said people of character and integrity were not attracted to politics.
The apex court noted that the philosopher Plato had the same complaint about ancient Greece.
“We have men of character and integrity, but they don’t join politics”, said the apex court bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra in the course of hearing a petition assailing sub-section (4) of Section 8 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, as ultra vires of the Constitution.
The judges noted that Plato had said that “Greece’s city-states were not electing good people.” Plato had penned his celebrated treatise “The Republic”, advocating “philosopher-kings” who would have long years of training and exceptional ability.
“Judges will be failures as rulers,” said Justice Patnaik, when the petitioner-in-person S.N. Shukla, general secretary of the NGO Lok Prahari, told the court that the legislature and judiciary have failed the country, and now judges should come forward and assume greater responsibility.
“Judges can at least correct rulers,” Shukla responded.
Shukla assailed the sub-section (4) of the Section 8 of the Representation of People Act, 1951 saying that while convicted persons were barred from contesting elections, the said Section allowed a sitting member of either parliament or the state assembly to continue to function as such upon conviction, if they file an appeal against the conviction and the sentence.
“There can’t be two categories where upon conviction a person is barred from contesting election and other by virtue of being a sitting member continues, and can even contest future elections also,” Shukla contended, adding that if, after being convicted of an offence a person cannot contest elections, then a sitting member could not continue to retain his membership of the house.
Justice Misra sought to know if a person upon conviction is stripped of his membership of an elected house and eventually gets acquitted by the appellate court, then what would happen to his right in the intervening period.
She said that a balance had to be struck between the scales of justice.
Addressing the query from the court, senior counsel Fali Nariman said that in most of the cases it is the sentence and not the conviction that is stayed. He said that so long as conviction persists, the disqualification clause would be attracted. This is the law, Nariman told the court, saying that conviction is stayed in extraordinary cases.
Making a distinction between the stay of conviction and stay of sentence, Nariman said that the apex court had stayed the conviction of former cricketer and BJP Lok sabha member Navjot Singh Sidhu in a murder case and in the case of film star Sanjay Dutt’s conviction in Bombay serial blast case, his sentence was stayed; not the conviction.
The court was told that the larger public good could not be dwarfed before the statutory rights of an individual.
The court will continue hearing the matter Thursday.