New Delhi, Sep 3: With parliament set to enact a law to negate an apex court order on immediate disqualification of convicted lawmakers, MPs from smaller parties have spoken on the need for long-term changes to ensure that people with clean records contest elections.
Parliamentarians from smaller parties that IANS spoke to had radical ideas to cleanse the system – fast track courts, proportional representation and state funding of elections – for making the polity more robust and honest. There is near-universal realisation among such parties of the need to align with public mood that wants politics to be cleaner and healthier.
P.D Rai, of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), the ruling party in the northeastern hill state, said there was need for long-term steps to rid politics of criminal elements as short-term solutions were fraught with problems.
“Funding of political parties is where the problem starts. The starting point is electoral reforms. First thing is state funding (of elections),” Rai told IANS.
He said the union cabinet had sought to bring clarity to the Supreme Court judgments on election of legislators.
The union cabinet had Aug 22 approved amendments to the Representation of the People Act to negate the apex court order on immediate disqualification of convicted lawmakers and barring them from contesting if under arrest. The Rajya Sabha last Tuesday passed a bill permitting those in custody to file their nominations.
The Supreme Court judgment July 10 had struck down sub section 4 of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act that allows a convicted member to continue membership for a three-month period for filing an appeal to a higher court and to get a stay on the conviction.
The second amendment approved by the cabinet states that a lawmaker would not lose his right to vote if under arrest even for a short duration and thereby would retain his right to contest a poll. Rai said that changes to rid politics of criminal elements need to be holistic.
He said there was a possibility of a lower court order in case of a convicted legislator being struck down by a higher court and there has to be scope for redress.
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) MP Jayant Chaudhary said fast track courts could be set up for speedy justice in cases concerning politicians. He said the issue of cleansing politics cannot be buried under the carpet and has to be taken up as a challenge.
He said people also had a role in electing clean candidates. “A mature voting public will solve a lot of problems we are facing,” Chaudhary said.
Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) leader Babu Lal Marandi defended the cabinet decisions and said it was in keeping with their right to natural justice.
“Whatever the cabinet has done is not wrong,” he said.
Marandi said there should be a change in the electoral system as the present dispensation does not meet the requirements of a diverse and pluralistic country like India. “There should be a direct election to the posts of prime minister and chief minister,” Marandi told IANS.
He said the parties should be allowed to nominate members to parliament and assemblies in the proportion of votes they get.
“Under the present system, good people are not able to come forward,” Marandi said.
Sanjiv Kumar, a Rajya Sabha MP of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, also spoke in favour of cabinet decisions concerning disqualification of legislators and right to contest polls of a person under custody. Referring to the apex court order that the legislator will cease to be a member on conviction, Sanjiv Kumar said that the judgment can be set aside by a higher court.
An MP of a party supporting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, however, said that he did not agree with the cabinet decision concerning convicted legislators.
“I do not agree (with the cabinet decision). A person who is convicted has to lose something,” the MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IANS.
An analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch of 4,807 sitting parliamentarians and legislators has revealed that 1,460 (30 percent) of them have declared criminal cases against them in their affidavits to the Election Commission. It said that 688 (14 percent) out of the sitting lawmakers analyzed have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. The analysis said that 162 (30 percent) out of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs have declared criminal cases against themselves and 14 percent face serious criminal cases.