fears of politicians
will disclose the assets of only the winning candidates and
that too, to the presiding officer of the House"
"Only the Parliament has the right to legislate."
- Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Congress (I);
"Are we supposed to disclose even our electricity and
telephone dues and let an ordinary Revenue official have the
right to disqualify our nomination?" - an indignant Mr.
Arun Jaitley, BJP official spokesperson.
are the sample comments of parliamentarians in response to
the Election Commission's(EC) recent order on candidates'
disclosures. Not a single politician cited here felt that
the citizens' right to be informed about the candidates is
a matter that needs to be addressed. This happens to be the
world's largest democracy!
Indian political class has displayed amazing unanimity in
rejecting the EC's Order. Such consensus is rare, as is the
speed at which it is acting. It aims to produce draft legislation
to replace the EC's order by July 15th, the scheduled opening
of the Parliament's monsoon session. What lies behind this
uncharacteristic pace and cohesion? Self interest? Constitutional
concerns to preserve parliament's legislative authority? Legitimate
fears of Returning Officers acting as "unguided missiles"
in the hands of unscrupulous rival politicians? Whatever the
reason, as a group, the parties seem determined to maintain
the status quo and keep the people in the dark.
EC's order implementing the Supreme Court judgment of May
2, stipulates that all candidates disclose the details of
any criminal cases pending against them, of their own and
dependent family members' finances, and of educational background
in their nomination papers. The EC's order is categorical.
When you view it in totality the Returning Officer is not
expected to have discretion. The objective is to enforce disclosure,
and not to verify and adjudicate. Still, the concern of rejection
on trivial grounds is justified, and the EC needs to address
political class is expressing two other major concerns that
we should carefully examine. The first is about the primacy
of Parliament to legislate and the second is about the right
to privacy of the candidate. Parliament ought to be, and is,
the supreme legislative authority. The disclosure mandated
by the EC under Art 324 is not legislation. It enforces the
citizens' right, implicit in the Constitution, to have knowledge
about candidates. Implementing the Supreme Court's directive
needs just an executive order or change of rules. Though independent
of government, the EC is a part of the executive. There has
been no usurpation of Parliament's power.
there are two competing rights to be considered - the candidate's
right to privacy versus the citizens' right to be informed
and the community's right to proper representation. When there
is a conflict between the candidate's rights and those of
the community, the latter must prevail. At all times we should
recognize that candidates are seeking the people's mandate
and seeking to exercise power on the people's behalf. The
right to privacy is an individual right. It must defer to
the right of the public to an informed choice and to the candidates'
duty to honour this.
The purpose of the EC's order is not to disqualify a candidate
as much as to help the voter make an informed choice. But
the parties are all allied in an effort to subvert the voter's
right to know. But as their mandate is the people's, we must
stand firm in our support of this disclosure order. Fortunately
there are many well-intentioned politicians. In order to multiply
their number, citizens must have the means to choose the most
suitable politicians as their representatives.