But is apprehensive of its implications
The political class has verdict the Supreme Court verdict that would disqualify convicted lawmakers, sentenced to two years of imprisonment or above, from holding office or contesting elections. Leaders, however, expressed apprehensions about the judgment’s “far-reaching” implications.
In their initial response, both the Congress and the BJP sought more time to formulate a position.
Congress leader Renuka Chowdhary told reporters that it would be “premature” for her to react. “Of course, we always welcome and appreciate any check or balance which is going to work and set up barriers and clean society.” But she added the party needed to see what the judgment exactly said and its “ramifications.”
BJP national spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told The Hindu, “We welcome any step taken by Central Information Commission, Election Commission, or the Supreme Court towards cleaning the electoral process. But we haven’t even seen a copy of the verdict yet, and will need time.”
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) did not express a view on the matter, with several senior party leaders travelling out of the capital.
Samajwadi Party spokesperson Kamal Farooqui said he “personally” welcomed the judgment. “The criminalisation of politics has to be stopped, and the court direction should be translated into action by the EC.” Asked about the implications for his party, which has several MPs and MLAs facing criminal cases, he said: “the SP has not taken a formal view yet. But the law of the land will be followed.”
Nationalist Congress Party general secretary D.P. Tripathi “unequivocally” welcomed the verdict. He said: “I would say even if an MP or MLA is convicted for a day, let alone two years, they should lose membership and be debarred until they appeal and are proven innocent.”
Janata Dal (United) general secretary K.C. Tyagi too welcomed the verdict, but said it would have been better if the “initiative had come from the EC or the Central government.” “Why should we look to the SC for everything? This degrades the autonomy and functionality of the executive.”
Lok Satta Party, which has been fighting for electoral reform, welcomed the verdict, but said it did not go far enough, as politicians with a “record of crime” continued functioning as legislators since conviction took a long time.
But there was a palpable unease among political leaders about what the verdict meant.
According to data provided by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), 162 of the 543 Lok Sabha members and 1258 of the 4032 MLAs in Assemblies, which is around 30 per cent of elected representatives, have declared criminal cases against them. These are at various stages of trial, and any conviction would halt the MP’s or the MLA’s parliamentary and electoral career.
A senior leader, who insisted on being anonymous since his party had not taken a position, said they were worried about “political cases.” “In a democracy, political activists have the right to protest. But there are consequences of this right under criminal law. Will they then get disqualified and debarred?”
A similar concern was expressed by the RJD, 64 per cent of whose MPs and MLAs have declared criminal cases against them, according to ADR-NEW data. RJD national spokesperson Manoj Jha said the party welcomed the “broad framework of the judgment,” but if such a provision was in place 30 years ago, “the entire communist and socialist leadership” would have been outside the formal political process. “Those engaged in subaltern and progressive politics are most vulnerable. Convictions come their way easily since they lack coping mechanisms.”