Enforced properly, this information will help voters make
an informed assessment of candidates, and force parties
to nominate those with a clean record. This certainly is
a significant milestone in the evolution our democracy.
is said, success has many fathers. A few newspapers and
magazines started preparing lists of candidates with criminal
record. Then in 1999 Lok Satta movement launched a bold
initiative with public participation to screen the candidates
for criminal record. A list of 45 candidates with details
of their criminal record was released after painstaking
effort and thorough verification in the 1999 Lok Sabha and
AP Legislative Assembly election. Many on the list were
incumbent legislators and ministers. This campaign captured
the imagination of the people. The parties and candidates
could only make one complaint - that there were others whose
names were missing from the list! This screening of candidates,
continued since then, has had a salutary effect on criminalization
of politics. The process of criminalization was arrested,
but not reversed. The media glare and public revulsion forced
parties to reject new candidates with criminal record. In
one case, a major party was compelled to change its nominee
for a Zilla Panchayat president's office because of public
pressure. But entrenched politicians with criminal record
continued. Based on this data a few concerned citizens (Association
for Democratic Reforms and PUCL) filed PILs finally leading
to the Supreme Court's judgement.
this case managed to achieve something so elusive in India:
it forged a national consensus of the major political parties
on an issue of national importance. They all seem united
in opposing the SC judgement! The mainstream political parties
resisted disclosures with all their might. The Solicitor
General, on behalf of the Union government argued that the
Court cannot direct any such disclosure of candidates' record,
and only Parliament should enact the amendments to law.
Political parties alone can decide whether such amendments
should be brought and carried out in the Act and Rules.
Clearly, the government is neither willing to bring in the
legislation, nor does it want disclosure of candidates'
antecedents to the voters who are allegedly the ultimate
sovereigns. Some democracy! Even more interestingly, Congress
Party, which impleaded itself as an intervenor in the case,
has also argued that no such disclosure of candidate's record
should be ordered. The party argued that only Parliament
should decide the question of stopping entry of criminals
in politics, or even disclosure of criminal record of candidates
and "furnishing of information regarding assets and
educational qualification is not at all relevant for contesting
election and even for casting votes."
the Court judgment directing mere disclosure of candidate's
record for voters' information had to be extracted from
the teeth of opposition of political parties. A lot more
remains to be done. The Election Commission must now issue
orders making full disclosure a necessary part of the nomination.
Failure to disclose details should entail rejection of nomination.
The media should give wide publicity to the candidates'
antecedents and enable informed choice by voters. Civil
society should launch major efforts to force other electoral
reforms - accountable political funding, decriminalization
and curbing polling irregularities.
in politics, monumental corruption, grotesque misgovernance
or communal carnage - all these generate predictable reactions
in our society. Endless publicity, a lot of self-flagellation,
blame throwing, clever power games and, at the end of it
all, business-as-usual. Everything is reduced to "who
is in power", and not "how to change the way things
are run". This statusquoism will not do. No system
is perfect. But in a wise system, self-correcting mechanisms
are available to prevent perversions and to correct distortions.
We need to focus on best practices and improvements in the
way we are governed. And there are answers staring us in
the face. The political class and bureaucracy are so resistant
to change, that even small improvements need heroic efforts.
The ball is in civil society's court. Media and the public
should check our overwhelming obsession with power games
and focus on specific solutions and force reform. Public
opinion is the only antidote to this incredible inertia
of the establishment. As someone said, if peaceful and orderly
change is not possible, violent and chaotic change will