The disqualification of RJD leader Lalu Prasad and the Janata Dal (United)’s Jagadish Sharma from the Lok Sabha in view of their conviction in the Chaibasa Treasury case is welcome. We can now hope that the Supreme Court ruling — that Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act 1951 (which allowed convicted MPs and MLAs to continue in their posts, provided they appealed against their conviction in higher courts within three months of the date of judgment) is ultra vires — will decriminalise and purge politics of its excesses.
The disqualification of Mr. Prasad and Mr. Sharma has proved that none is above the law. The Supreme Court’s judgment declaring Section 8 (4) of the RPA ultra vires was a landmark. The court has reinforced its position as the supreme guardian of law.
That three MPs, including the Rajya Sabha’s Rashid Masood, have been disqualified after their conviction in corruption cases shows Indian democracy’s potential for self-correction, although the welcome change came through judicial intervention. It remains to be seen whether the disqualification will force a change in the behaviour of political parties when they select candidates for the next general election.
As the law stands today, those facing serious criminal charges are not barred from contesting elections. Nor are many voters bothered about the criminal background of candidates. Unless people send out a strong message that they prefer lawmakers with a clean track record, political parties will continue to field tainted candidates who have a high winnability quotient on account of considerations like caste, religion, money and muscle power.
The disqualification of the convicted MPs is a much needed step towards cleansing our politics. However, it may turn into a tool for witch-hunting in the hands of the government.