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Political parties nervous over SC verdicts, campaigners happy
Friday July 12, 2013 5:40 PM, IANS

The seminal judgments of the Supreme Court barring legislators who have been convicted or those in jail from contesting elections have cheered those longing for decriminalization of politics while causing heartburn among political parties, though they are not openly expressing it.

The parties have expressed fears about possible misuse of some legal provisions but have lauded parts of the verdicts in keeping with the popular mood of the nation.

The landmark verdicts of the Supreme Court Wednesday, relating to the background of election candidates, are likely to goad the parties into being more careful in the process of selection of candidates. It has also accelerated the old debate on much-needed reforms in the electoral system.

Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the government should move towards electoral reforms taking the apex court orders into account.

"The best course is for the government to move forward on electoral reforms in the light of apex court verdicts and reports of various commissions," Naqvi told IANS.

He said the BJP welcomed any move that works towards cleansing the electoral system but parts of the apex court judgments may create practical difficulties.

He said there was possibility of misuse of the apex court's judgment that a person who is in jail or in police custody cannot contest elections.

"In the democratic system like that in India, such provisions can be misused. It can impose some hurdles in agitational actions that political parties undertake from time to time in the interest of the common man," Naqvi reasoned.

Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said the apex court verdicts were aimed at cleaning the political arena.

"But the government and the court should ensure these should not be misused," he said.

Congress sources said the order banning convicts as public representatives was fine but the second order barring politicians from contesting polls while in police custody or in jail could result in false cases by political rivals, especially on the eve of the polls.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist said the apex court judgment that a person who is in jail or in police custody cannot contest elections to legislative bodies should be overturned.

"This is a drastic judgment which will infringe on the democratic rights of citizens. A person who is an undertrial prisoner, who is not convicted of any offence, or a person who is in police custody without having faced a trial and conviction will be deprived of the right to contest elections," the party said.

The party said the intention of the judgment banning convicts as public representatives was good and laudable but conviction by a trial court is often set aside by a higher court on appeal.

"Therefore, the judgment needs to be clarified by a review," it said.

Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh said the order banning convicts as elected representatives was fine but the second order which bans a person in jail from contesting polls needs further elaboration.

Political analysts said the court judgments were laudable but admitted that there was possibility of misuse by vested interests.

Aswini K. Ray, a former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the two verdicts were "seminal and very desirable".

"It will obviously decriminalize politics," Ray told IANS.

He said there could be cases of misuse of provisions but that should "rather be tolerated given the scale of presence of politicians with criminal cases in legislatures".

An analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch of 4,807 sitting MPs and MLAs revealed that 1,460 (30 percent) of them have declared criminal cases against them in their affidavits to the Election Commission.

It said that 688 (14 percent) out of the total number of sitting MPs and MLAs analyzed have declared serious criminal cases against themselves.

The analysis said that 162 (30 percent) out of the 543 Lok Sabha MPs have declared criminal cases against them and 14 percent face serious criminal cases.

It said 82 percent of MPs and MLAs who have gotten elected on Jharkhand Mukti Morcha tickets have declared criminal cases against themselves. The number was 64 percent for Rashtriya Janata Dal and 48 percent for Samajwadi Party.

The analysis said that 31 percent of MPs and MLAs who got elected on BJP tickets have declared criminal cases against them. The number was 21 percent for the Congress.

Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of ADR, hailed the apex court verdicts.

"The verdict disqualifying convicted legislators is a very progressive judgment. It has potential to start the process of cleansing Indian politics of criminal elements. It is also an opportunity for political parties to start in-house cleansing," Chhokar told IANS.

Referring to the second judgment, Chhokar said it clears a constitutional position. "If you can't vote, you cannot be allowed to contest," he said.

A.S. Narang, a professor at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), said the court orders had pricked the conscience of the political class and it should also goad civil society towards action.

"Problem of criminalisation should be taken seriously by the political parties," he said.

However, he said the apex court "had gone a little too far" in its verdict that those in police custody cannot fight polls.

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