EC can act against criminalisation of politics: experts

The Election Commission of India in New Delhi. File   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Legal and political experts on Thursday said the Election Commission could do more to stop the criminalisation of politics, during a webinar on the implementation of the Supreme Court’s February 2020 directions to political parties on publicising criminal antecedents of candidates.

Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur said with the assumption that political parties would not cooperate, the EC and the judiciary would have to play their parts. He said the EC had “vast powers”, including under Article 324 of the Constitution.

“All kinds of things are possible if the EC applies its mind to it. It has the power to say that persons accused of crimes cannot stand elections,” Justice Lokur said at the online ineteraction organised by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

SC order ignored

The Supreme Court had ordered parties to publish details of candidates with pending criminal cases and reasons why they could not have selected a candidate without such a record. However, according to ADR, the SC’s order and the subsequent guidelines issued by the EC have not been followed fully.

Justice Lokur said it was his guess that the EC had not brought it to the Supreme Court’s notice that parties had not complied with the order. He added that the role of the judiciary was also important as cases remain pending for years and that it was the judiciary’s responsibility to decide the cases expeditiously.

While stating that the SC’s directions were well-meaning, he added “they are not capable of being implemented” and that “judgments have to be pragmatic”.

Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, an All-India Trinamool Congress MP, said he, too, carried the “stigma” of having a pending case. A case of criminal contempt had been pending against him since 2010 that he had to mention in each election affidavit filed since, he said. Mr. Ray said the EC should issue show-cause notices to parties if it finds the reasons they give for selecting a candidate with criminal antecedents “not in consonance with the intent or purport” of the SC’s order.

“The EC has the tremendous power of suspending the registration of a party. The buck cannot be passed to the SC or ADR or other social activists,” he said.

Note of caution

Former Chief Election Commission O.P. Rawat, however, said he did not agree with the suggestion that the EC should use its plenary power, which should be used in the case of a legal void, in this context. He said the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Indian Penal Code and other provisions were available to meet the challenge.

Citing the SC, he said the EC had “no locus standi to enter the political process per se”. He said the investigation and trial of cases should be expedited and there should be an effort to disseminate information to voters.

Alok Prasanna, co-founder of Vidhi Karnataka, a think tank doing legal research, said there was a section of voters that did not mind candidates with criminal antecedents. “There is no concept of electoral reform without judicial and police reforms,” he said.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 10:25:16 PM |

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