Despite India’s cabinet withdrawing an ordinance aimed at protecting convicted politicians, the country still has a long way to go before extinguishing corruption completely within Parliament. Dina Patel investigates
In 2005, 85-year–old advocate Lily Thomas, filed a petition that disallowed convicted MPs and MLAs from holding office from the date of conviction. This applied only to MPs and MLAs whose criminal offenses are punishable with imprisonment of two years or more.
The provision Ms Thomas was fighting against, section 8(4) of the RP Act, allowed a convicted MP/MLA to file an appeal or revision within three months from the date of their sentencing. This allows the MP/MLA to stay in office until the appeal or revision is disposed. In July 2013, Fali Nariman, senior advocate to the Supreme Court, argued the case for Ms Thomas and finally the provision was struck out by the Supreme Court (SC).
However, only two months after the SC ruling, the Union Cabinet cleared an ordinance in an attempt to invalidate the court’s judgement. Ms Sowmya Kidambi, Director at Society for Social Audit, Accountability & Transparency (SSAAT, AP), Andhra Pradesh commented: “There was justified anger and indignation when the Indian cabinet took a decision to pass an ordinance providing protection against disqualification to Parliamentarians convicted by a court. The ruling party’s Vice President Rahul Gandhi called the ordinance “utter nonsense”, and the ordinance seems to have received the burial it deserved.”
Corrupt governance has always plagued India but it wasn’t until 2009 when data compiled after the last general election, by National Election Watch (NEW) and the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), was released stating that the situation is indeed severe. The reports were collected from all 28 States and seven Union Territories during the Lok Sabha 2009 elections in India. In a meeting held in Delhi prior to these elections, it was decided to formally launch a campaign called National Election Watch (NEW) for bringing together all the state election watch groups.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]In a meeting held in Delhi prior to these elections, it was decided to formally launch a campaign called National Election Watch (NEW) for bringing together all the state election watch groups.
NEW is now a nationwide campaign comprising of more than 1200 organisations working on electoral reforms and improving democracy and governance in India. It was the first time that criminal and financial information was available from the affidavits of contestants for two consecutive Lok Sabha elections. This allowed comparison between the 2004 and 2009 elections.
According to the data, of the 7810 candidates analysed by NEW , who contested Lok Sabha 2009 elections, 1158 candidates declared pending criminal cases against them. Out of these 1158 candidates, 608 had pending serious criminal cases such as murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, robbery and extortion whilst 395 candidates with pending criminal cases against them were from the four main political parties, Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP).
According to Kidambi convictions are only the tip of the iceberg: “For the three Members of Parliament being disqualified now, there are many more facing trial with serious charges against them. 30% of the MPs in the Lok Sabha have pending criminal cases against them (162 of 543).”
Kidambi argues the convicted politicians can only be controlled through the actions of active citizen groups: “Active citizens groups are now demanding that political parties that field candidates with criminal charges pending against them will have to vouch for their innocence. These kinds of demands from political parties might be the beginning of a basket of measures that are needed for cleaner politics and a healthy nation.”
Meanwhile, India has announced warm-up elections for the world’s biggest election which will be held next year. Throughout November and December, there will be state elections in five states including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram. These elections will kick start from November 11. In the November polls, voters will choose members to sit in state assemblies. However, there is a larger prize at stake: history suggests that the results are likely to indicate the results of general elections in those states, which together account for 73 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha or the lower house of Indian Parliament