Political parties are ‘deeply concerned’ and even ‘outraged’ at the Supreme Court verdict that any person in custody — whether convicted or not — could not contest elections.

Even as they had apprehensions, politicians had ‘cautiously welcomed’ the verdict, which disqualified convicted lawmakers from holding office or contesting polls. But the judgment barring those imprisoned from fighting polls has opened up prospects of a confrontation between the judiciary and the political class.

Both major parties, the Congress and the BJP officially refrained from making a comment. Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said, “Till we see the full judgment, we cannot comment.”

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said while they welcomed any effort at ‘reform’, they needed more time to formulate a position.

But privately, political sources contacted by The Hindu expressed concern.

A Congress member in the Lok Sabha said, “Imagine a situation when a political rival, days before the nomination for an election, files drummed up and false charges against me on any pretext, say for outraging a woman’s modesty. I will be picked up, and then cannot contest polls.”

He gave other instances to show the implications of the verdict. “This is a country where thousands of Muslims are in prison, without conviction, where even Anna Hazare was in custody. How will it work?”

In his initial response, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat told The Hindu that the verdict was ‘out of order, and liable to misuse on a large-scale.’ He raised concerns, which appear to be shared by the wider political class.

“This would mean that a person in custody, even if charges are not framed, cannot contest elections. Then there are others who may be on bail. What happens to them?” He, however, added that the CPI(M) would take a ‘considered view’ on both the judgments before offering a formal and detailed view.

Communist Party of India MP D Raja said the verdict raised ‘very serious practical and political questions.’ “In a multiparty system, political parties have their prejudices. A government can, out of political vendetta, file charges against a rival. The logic of the verdict is not clear.”

He added that politicians participate in protests and agitations, and might be put in custody. “These are controversial issues and need to be examined in more detail.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesperson Manoj Jha had similar apprehensions.

He said, “This calls for wider consultations. In a fragmented and unequal socio-political matrix, it is easiest to file charges against those fighting for the marginalised, poor and vulnerable. Politicians can be accused of sedition, for waging war against the state, if they question the establishment and put into prison. Should they be de-barred then?”

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