assertion is the key to change
recent Supreme Court judgment on compulsory declaration of
criminal record, assets, liabilities and educational qualifications
by candidates for elective office is a shot in the arm for
all enthusiasts of democratic reform. There is a German saying
which describes politics as the patient drilling through thick
planks. This judgment typifies the hard work and collaboration
required to get anything moving in a large and plural democracy.
Relentless and single-minded pursuit of specific goals is
what yields enduring results. Several newspapers have been
making efforts over the years to list candidates with criminal
record. Then, in 1999 Lok Satta's Election Watch movement
screened the antecedents of candidates for criminal record
and released a list of 45 such candidates. This campaign with
full public participation captured the imagination of the
people. While entrenched politicians with criminal record
continued, parties were forced to deny seats to new candidates
with dubious antecedents.
one case, the candidate for Zilla Parishad president's office
had to be changed by a major party on account of public pressure.
with this data, a group of concerned citizens (Association
for Democratic Reforms) filed a PIL before Delhi High Court
seeking disclosure of candidate's antecedents at the time
of nomination. The High Court gave such an order in November
2000, and the union government promptly went in appeal against
it. This judgment of the Supreme Court is the final outcome
of this tortuous process.
this proves four things. First, results do flow from painstaking
work, provided you have clarity of goals, the objectives are
self-evidently sensible, and you know how to pursue them.
Second, professionalism and insights into governance processes
are the keys to successful citizens' initiatives. Third, the
political parties and bureaucracy as a class will resist all
positive change. While there are distinguished public servants
who are our allies, the establishment suffers from too much
inertia to reform from within. In this case, for instance,
both the union government and Congress party opposed before
Supreme Court disclosure of the record of candidates. Power
games and vote bank politics force parties to take adversarial
positions for public consumption. But all mainstream parties
have the same cynical and self-serving approach to politics
and public life. Fourth, a lot more remains to be done to
cleanse our polity. This is only scratching the surface. We
need to persuade the Election Commission to frame regulations
making declaration of criminal records, assets, liabilities
and educational qualifications a necessary part of nomination.
Non-declaration should entail rejection of the nomination.
Then we should ensure that media widely disseminates this
information and voters make informed choices. Most of all,
other electoral reforms to curb criminalization, end polling
irregularities, and ensure accountable use of money should
first things first. Now we should ensure that the Supreme
Court judgment is not merely a pious declaration of intent.
All of us, citizens everywhere, should write to the Election
Commission to make the declaration mandatory at the time of
nomination, failure of which will lead to its rejection. Lakhs
of post cards and emails to the Commission at Nirvachan Sadan,
Ashok Road, New Delhi - 1 will demonstrate public will. Shenanigans
of political parties will fail in the face of such clear expression
of public opinion.
may be a flawed democracy, but it is still a genuine and robust
one in many ways. Citizens who fail to assert forfeit their
right to complain. We all need to make our views heard, and
force change. Politics and governance are too important to
be left to politicians alone.