Corruption, a ‘noun’ when assumes all the characteristics of a Verb’, becomes self-infective and also develops resistance to antibiotics. In such a situation the disguised protagonist never puts a Hamletian question-“to be or not to be”-but marches ahead with perverted proclivity-sans concern, sans care for collective interest, and irrefragably without conscience. In a way, corruption becomes a national economic terror.
The constitutional functionaries, who have taken the pledge to uphold the constitutional principles, are charged with the responsibility to ensure that the existing political framework does not get tainted with the evil of corruption. However, despite this heavy mandate prescribed by our Constitution, our Indian democracy, which is the world’s largest democracy, has seen a steady increase in the level of criminalization that has been creeping into the Indian polity. This unsettlingly increasing trend of criminalization of politics, to which our country has been a witness, tends to disrupt the constitutional ethos and strikes at the very root of our democratic form of government by making our citizenry suffer at the hands of those who are nothing but a liability to our country.
In the beginning of the era of constitutional democracy, serious concerns were expressed with regard to the people who are going to be elected. Dr Rajendra Prasad on the Floor of the Constituent Assembly, before putting the motion for passing of the Constitution, had observed:
…It requires men of strong character, men of vision, men who will not sacrifice the interests of the country at large for the sake of smaller groups and areas…We can only hope that the country will throw up such men in abundance.
An essential component of a constitutional democracy is its ability to give and secure for its citizenry a representative form of government, elected freely and fairly, and comprising of a polity whose members are men and women of high integrity and morality. This could be said to be the hallmark of any free and fair democracy.
The Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms (1990) had addressed the need to curb the growing criminal forces in politics in order to protect the democratic foundation of our country. The Committee stated that:
The role of money and muscle powers at elections deflecting seriously the well accepted democratic values and ethos and corrupting the process; rapid criminalisation of politics greatly encouraging evils of booth capturing, rigging, violence etc.; misuse of official machinery, i.e. official media and ministerial; increasing menace of participation of non-serious candidates; form the core of our electoral problems. Urgent corrective measures are the need of the hour lest the system itself should collapse.
Criminalization of politics was never an unknown phenomenon in the Indian political system, but its presence was seemingly felt in its strongest form during the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts which was the result of a collaboration of a diffused network of criminal gangs, police and customs officials and their political patrons. The tremors of the said attacks shook the entire Nation and as a result of the outcry, a Commission was constituted to study the problem of criminalization of politics and the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in India. The report of the Committee, Vohra (Committee) Report, submitted by Union Home Secretary, N.N. Vohra, in October 1993, referred to several observations made by official agencies, including the CBI, IB, R&AW, who unanimously expressed their opinion on the criminal network which was virtually running a parallel government. The Committee also took note of the criminal gangs who carried out their activities under the aegis of various political parties and government functionaries. The Committee further expressed great concern regarding the fact that over the past few years, several criminals had been elected to local bodies, State Assemblies and the Parliament.
Article 324 of the Constitution lays down the power of the Election Commission with respect to superintendence, direction and control of elections . Supreme Court in a catena of judgments has elucidated upon the role of the Election Commission and the extent to which it can exercise its power under the constitutional framework.
The universal adult suffrage conferred on the citizens of India by the Constitution has made it possible for these millions of individual voters to go to the polls and thereby participate in the governance of our country. For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as the people’s representatives for the proper governance of the country. A voter is entitled to have an informed choice. If his right to get proper information is scuttled, in the ultimate eventuate, it may lead to destruction of democracy because he will not be an informed voter having been kept in the dark about the candidates who are Accused of heinous offences. In the present scenario, the information given by the candidates is not widely known in the constituency and the multitude of voters really do not come to know about the antecedents. Their right to have information suffers.
A voter has the elementary right to know full particulars of a candidate who is to represent him in Parliament and such right to get information is universally recognised natural right flowing from the concept of democracy and is an integral part of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The voter’s speech or expression in case of election would include casting of votes, that is to say, voter speaks out or expresses by casting vote. For this purpose, information about the candidate to be selected is a must. Thus, in unequivocal terms, it is recognised that the citizen’s right to know of the candidate who represents him in Parliament will constitute an integral part of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and any act, which is derogative of the fundamental rights is at the very outset ultra vires.
It must also be borne in mind that the law cannot always be found fault with for the lack of its stringent implementation by the concerned authorities. Therefore, it is the solemn responsibility of all concerned to enforce the law from time to time in order to infuse the culture of purity in politics and in democracy and foster and nurture an informed citizenry, for ultimately it is the citizenry which decides the fate and course of politics in a nation and thereby ensures that “we shall be governed no better than we deserve”, and thus, complete information about the criminal antecedents of the candidates forms the bedrock of wise decision-making and informed choice by the citizenry.
A time has come that the Parliament must make law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream. It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the Accused but it is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation. It is true that false cases are foisted on prospective candidates, but the same can be addressed by the Parliament through appropriate legislation. The nation eagerly waits for such legislation, for the society has a legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance. The voters cry for systematic sustenance of constitutionalism. The country feels agonized when money and muscle power become the supreme power. Substantial efforts have to be undertaken to cleanse the polluted stream of politics by prohibiting people with criminal antecedents so that they do not even conceive of the idea of entering into politics. They should be kept at bay.
The law making wing of the democracy of this country will take it upon itself to cure the malignancy. Such a malignancy is not incurable. It only depends upon the time and stage when one starts treating it; the sooner the better, before it becomes fatal to democracy.