The government dithered and finally the Cabinet discussed
the proposals on June 18, and decided that a legislation
was called for. An all-party meeting was convened on 8th
July, a full week after the expiry of the two-month deadline
imposed by the Court for implementing the disclosure provisions.
The EC had no choice but to enforce the Court directions,
and orders were issued on June 28. The all-party meeting
was duly held on July 8, and there was impressive unanimity
in opposing disclosure provisions and questioning the jurisdiction
of the judiciary. On July 15, a draft bill was released.
issues came to the fore in public debate on disclosures.
Three of them deserve serious consideration. First, the
alleged discretion given by the EC to the Returning Officers
(ROs) to reject the nomination in cases of proven incomplete
or false disclosure, provided such lapses constitute a defect
of substantial character. Politicians have expressed concern
about the ROs acting as "unguided missiles" in
the hands of unscrupulous rivals. This concern is both amusing
and revealing. In some ways, it is an extraordinary admission
of politicians' propensity to use administration for partisan
purposes, and the complete subversion of rule of law which
has become synonymous with political skill. And now the
same politicians turn round and innocently complain of possible
victimization! The truth is, in the past 50 years of election
history, out of the more than 150,000 nominations filed,
not even a dozen cases of frivolous rejections can be cited.
Even assuming that candidates harbour genuine fears of arbitrary
exercise of powers, all it takes to eliminate discretion
is a simple amendment in Rule 4 of Conduct of Election Rules,
1961. Clearly, RO's discretion is a red herring to denounce
the disclosure provisions, and the real motive is to prevent
the argument of judicial transgression into legislative
arena. Undoubtedly, legislature is supreme in law making.
But disclosure has been ordered by the Court as an extension
of the citizens' right to know under Article 19 of the Constitution,
and as a natural right flowing from the concept of democracy
itself. It is perverse to argue that voters have no right
or obligation to know about candidates seeking their mandate.
The Supreme Court's jurisdiction in interpreting and defending
fundamental rights is inviolable. True, there have been
judicial incursions into executive and legislative spheres
earlier. True, the judiciary's claim to appoint itself without
any say for elected government is untenable. But the parties
have chosen the wrong issue and wrong time to establish
legislative supremacy. If anything, this self-serving approach
has undermined the legitimacy of political process, and
made judicial activism more likely, not less.
this whole controversy has hurt the democratic process.
Parties and politicians are seen to be ranged against public
opinion. The draft bill released on 15 July makes a mockery
of professed concern for clean politics. The bill says no
disclosure shall be permitted other than that provided by
it. And a new disqualification is proposed to give an impression
of some reform. Those who are charged by Courts with heinous
offences in two separate cases, that too six months before
nomination, stand disqualified. Only murder, waging war
against government, abduction, dacoity, terrorism, and narcotic
offences, if committed repeatedly and charged by courts,
can separate criminals from politics! The real intent of
the bill is revealed more by what it omits, than what it
says. There is not a word about financial disclosures!
message to the nation is as disturbing as it is clear. No
matter what people say, it is politics as usual. Legitimate
political process is critical for the survival of our democracy.
We need more politics, not less; more democracy, not less.
But short-sighted politicians are distancing people from
politics, and painting themselves black. It is sad for politics,
and sadder for democracy. Sensible citizens must stand up
and restore politics to people, and reclaim the republic
for the true sovereigns.