A dangerous trend in Indian politics is the criminalization of politics. The number of legislators with criminal charges pending against them has increased in the new Parliament. A balance between the rights of convicted criminals and the responsibility to provide the public with clean political choices is required. India can boastfully declare itself to be the largest democracy in the world, but it can't claim to be the largest democracy with unwavering members. Since, over the years, there has been a steady and undeterred rise in the number of candidates in elections, whether for parliament or state legislatures, with criminal proceedings against them.
Indian law does not prohibit people who have criminal cases pending against them from contesting the elections; those facing trial are free to run even for serious crimes. Since the Indian judiciary is already overburdened and can take years to settle a case, if their chances of winning are bright, any political party in the country feels emboldened to unhesitatingly and unabashedly field any number of candidates with a criminal record. The criminalization of politics relates to the entrance into politics of criminals and the use of political influence by these criminal elements for personal benefits. India's very foundations of democracy are challenged by the growing pattern of criminalization of politics. To guarantee winnability in elections, money and muscle strength have become the sole criterion.
The disturbing picture is that about 13% of the candidates contesting the 2019 election are accused of heinous crimes, including murder, attempted murder, abduction, rape, and other crimes against women. And it is a shame that in 2009, 30% of Lok Sabha members had criminal cases against them, which increased to 34% in 2014 and further reached an unprecedented level of 43% for the elected 17th Lok Sabha members in 2019. The magnitude of the tumour can be better understood from the terrifying image of serious crimes declared by 29% of those elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019.
The new ruling aims to introduce more accountability into the system. Recently, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court issued a judgment on the contempt petitions concerning the criminalization of politics in India and the failure to comply with the directions of the Foundation and Ors of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of Public Interest v. Union of India and the case of Anr (2018). The Court noted that the political parties do not clear as to why candidates with pending criminal charges are first and foremost chosen as candidates. The Court issued the following six directions (although these directions were given in 2018, the parties did not obey them).
(1) political parties must upload on their website, along with the reasons for such collection, specific details concerning candidates with pending criminal cases.
(2) The reasons for the selection are those relating to the credentials, accomplishments and merits of the candidate concerned, and not to mere 'scoring' in the polls.
(3) This information is also released in the following format:
(4) Such information shall be released within 48 hours of the candidate's selection, or no less than two weeks before the first nomination date, whichever is earlier.
(5) The political party concerned shall send to the Election Commission, within 72 hours of the selection of the candidate concerned, a report in accordance with these directions.
(6) In the absence of such an enforcement report by a political party, the Election Commission shall bring that non-compliance to the notice of the Supreme Court by the political party concerned.
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